Note: This story was updated July 25 to correct the name of the spokesperson for the state fire marshal.
Neighboring volunteer fire departments in Marion County, Tennessee, will provide services to the town of New Hope after most of the town's firefighters resigned en masse Monday, citing a possible lack of insurance for firefighters and the equipment they use and a hostile workplace.
The South Pittsburg Fire Department and Kimball Fire Department, both all-volunteer, will cover fire calls in New Hope until the situation at its fire department is resolved, Marion County Mayor David Jackson said Tuesday in a phone interview. New Hope is a town of fewer than 1,000 people but with a footprint of more than 10 square miles, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
"The city of South Pittsburg and town of Kimball are on automatic mutual aid response to New Hope at the request of their mayor," Jackson said of governmental response since the firefighters quit Monday evening.
The firefighters who resigned Monday said they were working in a hostile workplace with old gear. New Hope Mayor Mark Myers, when asked, provided no proof the volunteer firefighters were covered by workers' compensation or that their equipment was insured, former Capt. Robert Kortz said Monday. At least one of the fire trucks was not registered to New Hope but was still registered to the previous town it served, Kortz said.
Myers could not be reached for a comment Monday or Tuesday, and he hasn't responded to messages relayed to him seeking an interview.
The state and county have no oversight authority over volunteer fire departments in communities and cities, officials said.
"Our county fire departments are independently formed, and we make an annual donation to them, and that's all the say-so we have," Jackson said.
The State Fire Marshal's Office does not have any information related to volunteer fire departments' insurance, Kevin Walters, a spokesperson for the agency, said Tuesday in an email.
"To support Tennessee's volunteer fire departments, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office awards monies to volunteer fire departments for training and equipment through the Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant Program," Walters said.
There are 699 fire departments in Tennessee, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office Commissioner's Annual Report for 2022. More than 75% of those are comprised entirely of volunteers, while 8% are identified as career fire departments where firefighters are paid, and the remaining 16% are staffed by a combination of the two.
The ever-changing number of active firefighters in Tennessee stands at an estimated 19,510. Approximately 11,229 of them are volunteers, among whom about 2,300 received a small payment or stipend for their service, the report states.
On Tuesday, Kortz said in a phone interview that he, former Chief Jimmy Haley and the other former firefighters are maintaining their stance and have not heard from city officials since Monday.