by Mel Griffith
It seems that merger mania has seized the County Commission once again. Apparently, some people just can't understand that Bradley County and Cleveland governments are two separate organizations with separate and sometimes competing interests. Some time ago there was a fit of interest in merging the city and county fire departments. A committee was formed to study the idea thoroughly, but fortunately nothing more came of this bad idea. For some reason the ambulance service was included in this merger proposal, although there is only one service in the county and therefore nothing to merge.
Now, the urge to create chaos in the fire service has returned. Those pushing to have only one fire department in Bradley County should understand that it is a step backward, not forward. We have already had experience in what it is like to have only one fire department in the county with nothing to have its performance measured against. That's why we have two now. It didn't work.
In 1992 a group of citizens, alarmed at the almost total lack of protection in the rural area by the city fire department, which then had a contract to protect the entire county, formed a group to work for better fire protection. This effort resulted in the formation of the first volunteer fire companies in 1993. From that start, Bradley County now has ten well equipped fire stations, two of them manned 24 hours a day with paid firefighters. Bradley County now has better fire protection than any surrounding county. Why monkey with success? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Commission seems to have difficulty resisting the temptation to not let well enough alone. Why merge the two departments when the firefighters of both are opposed? It is supposed to save money. A final budget for the proposed merged department has not been presented, but a previous budget "saved" money mainly by dropping plans to build three more fire stations which are needed to protect the county. Having fewer stations to protect the public naturally reduces costs.
Millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of volunteer man-hours have been spent in the last fifteen years to build the Bradley County Fire department. Why waste it? We can be sure that the city will not participate unless it controls everything. We can also be sure they will get rid of the volunteers, which they have been trying to do since the beginning. Whatever happens, the city and the area right around it have nothing to lose. They will have good fire protection from somebody. But the rural areas stand to lose fifteen years of progress if we lose the county fire department.