Fire chief on refusing to respond to interstate car fires: 'It's - WSMV News 4

Fire chief on refusing to respond to interstate car fires: 'It's gonna burn'

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On Sept. 5, a bus carrying Marines burned, leaving only a shell. (WSMV) On Sept. 5, a bus carrying Marines burned, leaving only a shell. (WSMV)

Radio communication and incident reports obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team show the closest fire department to a stretch of interstate frequently used by Nashvillians traveling to Chattanooga is refusing to respond to car fires on 1-24 in Marion County on Monteagle Mountain.

The I-Team started investigating when a bus filled with Marines traveling to Nashville on Sept. 5 burned, leaving only a shell of the bus.

The I-Team uncovered an incident report where the chief of the closest volunteer fire department, Battle Creek Fire Department, refused to respond because of financial reasons.

“How do you justify being a firefighter and not responding to a fire?" asked chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

“It's hard. It's the facts of life. The world is cruel,” Chief Eddie Haggard replied.

Radio communication between the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Marion County 911 dispatchers reveal what happened on Sept. 5.

“I just wanted to verify that you guys have a fire apparatus for the charter bus,” the THP dispatcher can be heard saying.

“I paged them out, but the fire chief called and refused it,” the Marion County dispatcher responded.

“Even though it’s fully engulfed?” the THP dispatcher asked.

"Yep, it's the same thing every time,” the Marion County dispatcher said.

“So we're just going to let it burn off the side of the road?” the THP dispatcher asked.

“I guess,” the Marion County dispatcher responded.

Radio communication obtained by the I-Team revealed Haggard refused the call.

“There’s no entrapment in that bus, is there?” Haggard asks the Marion County 911 dispatcher.

“No, sir. It’s a bus full of Marines,” the dispatcher responded.

“We've been denying all the other fires on the freeway, I'll probably have to deny this one too,” Haggard said.

The I-Team also found two other instances of the Battle Creek Fire Department refusing calls, including a tractor trailer on fire on Feb. 4 and a report of a truck's tires on fire on May 10.

Haggard told the I-Team the reason he is refusing to respond is because when he became chief a year ago, he found that their charter does not include covering fires on the interstate, only homes in his area and Highway 2.

Haggard also said his budget does not allow him to respond to fire calls on the interstate.

“No money, can’t roll it,” Haggard said.

Haggard said his fire department will only respond if someone is trapped.

“If you’re trapped, we roll. No question,” he said.

“But if it’s on fire?” asked Finley.

“It’s gonna burn,” Haggard said.

Marion County Mayor David Jackson said his county is not in the firefighting business, and doesn’t have the funding to reimburse volunteer fire departments for responding to interstate car fires.

"For everybody in Nashville who uses this interstate to get to Chattanooga and their car catches on fire, what do you tell them?" Finley asked.

"Right now, they're just in a bad situation,” Jackson said.

Haggard said he has alerted to the state to the situation, including the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

But TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said the state cannot reimburse local fire departments either.

"There's not a pot of money there that we pay taxes for that goes to reimburse those agencies,” Doughty said.

Doughty did say they are reaching out to Haggard to explain how the state goes about recouping costs, including contacting insurance companies after accidents.

In the meantime, Marion County’s 911 center is contacting other volunteer fire departments when Battle Creek refuses.

"People do need help. But, we can't cover the world. And I-24 is the world,” Haggard said.

In the Marine bus fire, the Monteagle Fire Department did respond after Battle Creek refused, but the Marines on the bus said the fire spread so quickly, nothing was left by the time the fire department arrived.

Haggard said if his fire department did respond to all interstate car fires for a month, their entire year’s budget would be gone.

Click here to read the full report into the bus fire.

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