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Volunteer fire departments find increased struggles in the midst of COVID-19

For volunteer fire departments like the one in Roane County, they’re fighting more than just fires. The fight against COVID-19 can’t be solved with a fire engine and water, and the virus has taken a toll on resources in a department that is already stretched thin.
Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 9:05 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2020 at 11:05 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -For volunteer fire departments like the one in Roane County, they’re fighting more than just fires. The fight against COVID-19 can’t be solved with a fire engine and water, and the virus has taken a toll on resources in a department that is already stretched thin.

Assistant Chief Chris Lackey says they’ve had a few members of their 26 person volunteer department test positive for COVID-19. With five separate stations that require personnel, this has made being readily available to a rural community even harder than it was before.

Lackey says in the last month and a half they’ve received around 40 calls. But being able to respond to them hasn’t always been a guarantee.

“Recently we’ve actually had to scratch on a couple of calls of mutual aid because we’ve had no one to respond," said Lackey

For this department, it’s a terrible feeling when they are unable to respond. But when they can’t, they call on the county-funded and paid EMA crews. But Lackey tells us that those crews often don’t have the same resources to combat fires like the fire department does.

With a $110,000 budget and over 100 miles of Roane County to cover it’s a tough task for a department filled with volunteers. To ask a group of men and women to spring into action at a moment’s notice, taking time away from their family isn’t easy but it’s something they sign up to do.

Lackey says, “We do it for free because we care about our community.”

The assistant fire chief tells us that every department in the area offers free smoke detectors for people that don’t have one. In Roane County, they will even come install it for you free of charge.

Lackey also wants to remind people that from October 15th through May 15th in rural areas you are now required to have a burn permit to start any fire even if it’s on your property

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