New Hope appoints chief, assistant chief to restaff volunteer fire department

Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / New Hope firefighters leave last week after dropping off equipment at the Fire Department and resigning. They resigned over differences with Mayor Mark Myers.

A fire chief and assistant fire chief have been appointed by officials in New Hope, Tennessee, to replace the town's firefighters after the majority of the department's volunteers walked out last week.

Cory Comstock, the fire chief in neighboring South Pittsburg, will serve as fire chief, and Jerry Crosslin, a former New Hope Volunteer Fire Department chief, will serve as the assistant, following a motion by Mayor Mark Myers and a unanimous vote by the town board at its Monday meeting.

A week prior, six of eight firefighters resigned en masse, citing a hostile workplace and no proof from the mayor that they had workman's compensation insurance or insurance on the town's firefighting equipment.

Members of the department had been discussing whether to quit for about a month, former Capt. Robert Kortz said July 17 at a news conference. Discussions started after firefighters and a fire truck were called back from responding to a fire on Interstate 24, Kortz said, and New Hope's crew left the scene outraged.

On Monday, Myers said another fire department already had equipment on the scene, and New Hope's department wasn't officially dispatched to the fire, but cellphone calls were made triggering a response.

Myers told residents at the meeting he got in touch with Comstock while the resigning firefighters were speaking to the media last week in order to make sure New Hope's department had a chief until official action could be taken. Firefighters in neighboring Kimball also were ready to respond if needed, Marion County Mayor David Jackson said July 17 after the firefighters turned in their gear at the town's fire hall.

Myers also said he was sorry the situation developed.

"I will apologize to everybody in this room and the citizens here for this getting like it got, it was embarrassing for the city and I hate it," Myers said. "The city's going to continue to run a good Fire Department and will keep it in place, and we're moving forward, it's that simple."

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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. Officials and residents discussed the need for firefighters, where their coverage areas lie and how mutual aid agreements work between neighboring agencies.

All of Marion County's fire departments are independently-formed and all-volunteer, according to officials.

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 fluctuating 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.

Previously, all or most of New Hope's volunteer firefighters were out-of-town residents, but Myers said Monday two of the town's new firefighters are New Hope residents.

Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569.