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Firemen tell Commission much of their equipment is old, substandard

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins Co. Commissioner Michael Herrell, who is Chairman of the Commission, extended an invitation to all members of the Commission, the Hawkins Co. Fireman’s Association and all Hawkins Co. Fire Departments to attend a voluntary meeting last Monday evening.

The July 29, 2019, meeting served as an informational session for members of the local fire departments and the Fireman’s Association to share updates with the Commission and discuss their respective organizations.

“There’s a rumor going around that we’re here to make cuts to the fire departments,” Herrell said at the beginning of the meeting. “I just want you to understand that we’re not here to cut any fire department. We’re just here because I had some questions about what the Fireman’s Association does and how they represent the fire departments in Hawkins County.”

Representatives from the following fire departments were in attendance: Lakeview, Goshen Valley, Striggersville, Clinch Valley, Rogersville, Carters Valley, Stanley Valley, Persia and Bulls Gap. The Hawkins Co. Emergency Response Team was also represented.

What does the Fireman’s Association do?

“The Fireman’s Association meets every other month,” said Hawkins Co. Fireman’s Association President and Lakeview VFD Chief Jim Klepper. “All the chiefs and assistant chiefs come together and discuss what happened in their departments in the time before the meeting.”

All eight county volunteer fire departments are part of the association, as are four paid city departments and one hazmat team.

Numerous surrounding counties also have similar associations.

The association offers centralized training, and they also are broken into smaller committees such as the Boundaries Committee and the Communications Committee. However, each fire department must apply for grants on an individual basis rather than having this done through the Fireman’s Association.

“One of the biggest parts of the association — today, with the limited number of volunteers that we have, we have to have automatic mutual aid,” said Mark Bowery, who is the regional director for VFIS Insurance that provides insurance to the Fireman’s Association. He also formerly served as President of the Sullivan County Fireman’s Association. “So, they work together to make sure that the closest department is called and that 911 is dispatching them. They work on this constantly. There’s not an association meeting that goes by where this is not a discussion.”

“We (the association) have to maintain communications for all the fire departments in this county,” said Tony Fugate, who is Goshen Valley VFD Chief and former president of the association. “We have to ensure that we have an effective and efficient mutual aid system.”

Commissioner Nancy Barker explained that some commissioners do not think that the Fireman’s Association is necessary.

“As a collective group here tonight, do you feel like you need the Fireman’s Association?” she asked.

The crowd gave a resounding “yes,” and many made additional comments.

“That is our way of communication between all of the departments,” said Curtis Bean, who is the Vice President of the Fireman’s Association and Assistant Chief of Lakeview VFD. “All the departments need to try to work together. Gay (Murrell) says she calls up three departments on any structure fire. If we don’t work together and discuss things at the association meetings, we don’t know what we’re going to do when we go meet with the other two departments.”

Where does their money come from, and where does it go?

Klepper also explained that the Fireman’s Association pays the Workman’s Compensation insurance, which is $3,121 per year, and medical insurance, which is $5,024 per year, for each of the fire departments who are part of the association. They also take care of the maintenance on the repeaters for the respective fire stations.

“We get our money from the county,” Klepper said of the association.

In order for each of the county fire departments to receive insurance through the Fireman’s Association, they must send representatives to at least three association meetings per year. According to Klepper, this rule is strictly enforced, and attendance is kept at each meeting.

Bowery explained that the cost of these two kinds of insurance is determined by the number of active firefighters and the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating for each individual fire department.

The ISO scores individual fire departments based on their ability to offer fire protection. This rating can fluctuate based on something as simple as the number of fire hydrants in the area serviced by a fire department.

“If there’s no fire protection at all, then you are a class 10, and it is just unbelievable what this will cost people—if they do decide to buy insurance,” Bowery said. “The better equipped and outfitted the fire departments are, and the more they lower their ISO rating, then that insurance is cheaper. And we’re talking by hundreds and hundreds of dollars of difference in people’s policies.”

He went on to explain that insurance is bought collectively in order to receive the best rates and coverage, and Hawkins Co. fireman are not the only ones to use this approach.

“Sullivan County, Greene County, Washington County — everybody does it,” said Bowery.

He also previously served as a Sullivan County Commissioner and worked with Sullivan County firemen in this capacity as well.

“The fire departments are really the best buy that you have in your whole county,” Bowery said. “This is because they are the only agency that really can return money back to the people with their relationship with the commission. They are a part of the economy. The lower their ISO rating is, the more return you get.”

He went on to explain that, during his tenure on the Sullivan Co. Commission, the county worked to purchase updated equipment for the county fireman in an effort to lower their ISO rating.

“The return on the investment in Sullivan County was huge—it was, like, 15-to-1,” Bowery said. “If you go to an insurance agency and just look at what the savings are from an ISO rating of 10 compared to a 7, it will be amazing to you.”

“That’s a good point about insurance,” said Commissioner Mark DeWitte. “The insurance premiums are paid based on ISO, but it’s hard to get the people who are paying the taxes to understand that. If you’re helping get ISO’s down, and you’re helping to write grants, I see the value of this organization. We just need to know what you’re doing in that respect so we can figure out how to help you.”

Fire station regulations under the NFPA

“How often do you replace turnout gear?” asked Commissioner Barker. This question sparked an impassioned response from the visiting firemen.

Though the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency), which is the standard used all over the country to govern Fire Department occupational safety, dictates that turnout gear be replaced every seven years, nearly every fire department representative at Monday’s meeting explained that their departments cannot afford to do this.

Bowery explained that the NFPA recently reduced the length of time turnout gear can be kept from ten years to seven.

The turnout gear must also be tested to ensure that it is adhering to safety regulations.

“[The turnout gear] has a moisture barrier in it, and that is one of the things that you have to test,” Bowery said. “Then, you have a tear test. So, if [the local fire departments] run over the time limit set by the NFPA, and someone gets hurt, that is the standard that they will be judged by. The NFPA is not a law, but it is the standard that is used all over the United States. If someone gets hurt, they’re going to have a liability — a long liability.”

Old equipment, little money, and big risks

So, why is the equipment used by Hawkins Co. firemen not replaced every seven years?

According to Bowery, one new set of turnout gear can reach upwards of $3,000. However, this cost does not even include air packs, which are a whopping $7,000 without a spare cylinder.

“The administrators for these eight county fire departments as well as their personnel are held to the same standards as any other firefighters in this country—NFPA standards,” said Fugate. “If we send a firefighter out here with substandard equipment, a substandard truck, or an apparatus that we know has mechanical problems and they are injured or killed, guess who is going to jail. That would be considered gross negligence.”

He went on to explain that much of the firefighting equipment in the county is old and would be considered substandard.

“If everyone in here would be very blatantly truthful, about two-thirds of the fire apparatus that we’ve got in this county should have been taken to the scrapyard 25 years ago,” he said. “I’ve got a 2006 Spartan pumper with a front-line engine, and I got it on a grant. The rest of my apparatus is an excess of 40 years old. Forty! My second station’s front-line engine is a 1987. That’s my next newest engine.”

He explained that, given the NFPA standards, it is difficult for him to avoid sending firemen out to the scene with substandard equipment.

“We’re having to take chances,” he said. “We’re putting our lives and our livelihoods at risk every day when we go out on these calls but even more so due to the fact that we’re using substandard equipment. Most of the fire departments in here are in the same boat if they would really be honest with you.”

Numerous members of the association also expressed their frustration with the lack of fire hydrants in the county. In fact, there are so few fire hydrants in some parts of the county that water tankers are required in order to control something as large as a structure fire.

“If you don’t have a tanker out in the county, you’re hurting,” said Sam Johnson, who is the Assistant Chief of Rogersville VFD.

He then asked the gathered crowd, “There’s one [fire hydrant] every how many miles?” Someone responded “there’s not one” with a laugh.

“Right now, these guys are having to take the water with them and pray to God that someone else can bring them some more,” said Johnny Mallory, who is the Chief of Striggersville VFD.

A desperate need for new recruits

“It hard to get members now,” said Johnson. “People are just not volunteering.”

According to Fugate, the total number of firemen in all eight county departments is only around 160.

Hawkins Co. 911 Director Gay Murrell explained that there are currently so few firemen in the county that central dispatch always pages out three separate departments in order to find enough firemen to control the fire.

“And sometimes that’s still not enough,” she said. “We have had to pull from other counties before.”

Much more is required to become a volunteer fireman than first meet the eye.

“Right now, there’s a 64-hour class going on,” said Johnson. “You’ve got to be at the fire department, you’ve got to have a 16-hour class, then you’ve got to take a 64-hour class, then you’ve got to take the test. That’s just to go and fight a fire. You cannot fight a fire without doing this.”

This doesn’t even include any additional training, such as command classes.

Just to keep the lights on and fuel in the trucks

In addition to the strenuous training new recruits must go through right out of the gate, the job of a volunteer fireman can often be stressful.

“Seventy-five percent of our time is spent raising funds,” Fugate said. “Country breakfasts, spaghetti suppers, tractor pulls — whatever we have to do just to keep the lights on and fuel in the trucks.”

Bean reminded the gathered crowd that the majority of the volunteer firemen in the county hold down full-time jobs in addition to their service to the VFD.

“If you sit down to eat supper, and your pager goes off, you have to get up and go,” Johnson. “You’re on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

“There’s no difference between a volunteer fireman and a paid fireman other than the pay,” said Stanley Valley VFD Chief Stacy Vaughan. “We keep the same training, the same standards, and the same equipment. It’s just more of a struggle when you’re not in a paid facility.”

One man, one wheel, one goal, and 300 miles of open road

KINGSPORT — “When all of our kids were younger, one of the things we prayed for was that they would have a sense of adventure and that they would care about missions—not just themselves,” said David Limiero. “This is the scary answer to that prayer.”

David is the father of 20-year-old Anthony Limiero who is currently traveling by unicycle from his home in Kingsport to the campus of Georgia Technological University in Atlanta where he is a student. The journey is a little over 300 miles, and Anthony hopes to accomplish it in 10 days or less. This is all in an effort to raise money for an organization called Enhance, which provides resources to community leaders in Southern Asia to help them provide social services and plant churches within their particular area.

Surrounded by family and friends to see him off, Anthony Limiero left on his unicycle from the driveway of his home on the sunny afternoon of Thursday, August 1. From there, he headed down the Kingsport Greenbelt.

Though taking a long-distance trek atop a single wheel is not for everyone, this spirit of adventure is common around the Limiero household. In fact, Anthony Limiero just recently returned from a five-month stay in Santiago, Chile where he volunteered with an organization called Globalscope to develop a religious community geared towards college-aged Chileans. His sister, Carissa Albritton also traveled to China at age 14 to work as a missionary.

One man

Anthony Limiero is originally from Bakersfield, California, and just moved to Kingsport alongside his family a year and a half ago. He is now studying Aerospace Engineering in college.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut,” he said. “I never really lost that dream, but I figured that a good way to get into that industry without completing years and years of school and pilot training is to be an aerospace engineer. At a minimum, I’ll send people into space. Maybe one day I’ll be the one to go into space.”

His goal is to work on a mission to Mars.

“At this point in human history, we’ve been to the moon, but we’ve never been to any other planets,” he said. “During my lifetime, we have plans to go to Mars, and that’s going to be an amazing step in human history. I have the opportunity, the passion, and happen to have been born at the right time in order to work on that, so I want to be a part of it in any way that I can.”

“He’s going to be the first unicyclist on Mars,” said Anthony’s mother, Jan Limiero added with a laugh.

One wheel

Anthony Limiero has been unicycling for a little over six years. He explained that, since he knows how to unicycle, he wanted to use his skills for a purpose.

“It was kind of an impulse buy a long time ago,” he said. “I never thought it would become as big of a thing as it did, but it is a big part of my life now. It’s a big part of my identity on campus and within my friends. I’m ‘that unicycle guy’.”

Anthony’s unicycle is just as unique as its owner.

“A normal unicycle doesn’t have any space to hold bags, and, when you’re doing long rides on a unicycle, you really don’t want to be wearing a backpack,” he said. “This would be bad for your back, its hot and sweaty, and it would be bad for balance.”

Naturally, for a 300-mile journey, Anthony needed many supplies, but he had nowhere to store them on his unicycle. So, he and his grandfather, Merton Dibble, got creative.

“We built a frame on the unicycle that can hold bags for me so I don’t have to wear anything on my back,” he said. “I went down to Georgia Tech and used some of the machines in the machine shop there to make some parts for it. The rest, my grandpa and I did just in his garage with different pieces of scrap metal he had lying around.”

Tent poles, the back of a helicopter seat, and a fanny pack all had a part in constructing his unicycle.

“This was the tent that we used growing up,” Jan Limiero said. “We called it the Taj Mahal. It’s really fun to see it repurposed into something new.”

Because he and his grandfather provided all of the labor and almost all of the material, the custom equipment on his unicycle only costs him $3.

“The only thing we bought for this setup is two little fanny packs from Goodwill so that we could clip the buckles off of them and sew them onto my bags,” Anthony Limiero said.

Most long-distance unicyclists use a thin wheel that is 36 inches in diameter. This allows the rider to pedal fewer times and have less resistance against the road, as a larger wheel can cover a larger distance during each rotation. Anthony Limiero’s, however, is only 26 inches in diameter and is technically built for rugged terrain rather than paved roads.

“If you asked anybody in the unicycle community if this was a good idea, they would say no,” Anthony said. “Even for unicyclists, it’s kind of crazy to do something with a wheel that’s this small.”

Large unicycle wheels, however, are very expensive, and the 26-inch wheel is the largest one that he owns. Raising money for mission organizations is more of a concern for him than purchasing a larger wheel.

One goal

Enhance is one of many organizations that partner with a church planting organization called Stadia, where David Limiero works. According to Stadia’s website, their goal is to “plant churches that intentionally care for children.”

Enhance is just one of the many organizations who partner with Stadia. Stadia provides the startup costs necessary for planting a new church. They also help to train community leaders in Southern Asia to help them be prepared to serve their own communities through social services and planting other churches.

“This is a very needy area,” Anthony said. “There’s 26 million homeless or parentless children in this region of South Asia. Without organizations like Enhance, these children are just living on the streets, and that can be very, very dangerous. This is offering all sorts of different social services to kids like this or mentally disabled people. In this culture, if there is a mentally disabled kid born into a family, they just get rid of it. They think it is a curse on their family or bad luck. There’s a lot of development and education that needs to come to this area.”

His goal is to raise $6,500 dollars by the end of his cycle tour. According to his website, this amount will help to resource one leader to provide social services and share their faith in their particular community in Southern Asia for three years.

100 percent of the funds he raises will go towards this organization.

300 miles of open road

“I’m really excited to get on the road and ride,” Anthony Limiero said just before he left from the driveway of his home. “I haven’t done a ride this long — ever.”

In fact, a 15-mile trip was the longest he had ever ridden before. That particular trip only occurred on July 31 — the day before he left on his 300-mile journey.

“I’m really excited to experience cycle touring, camping, and just to gain a whole new experience,” he said.

“There’s only a few people in the world who do long-distance unicycling,” Jan Limiero said. “So, Anthony doesn’t have many mentors.”

Each night, he will stay in a different location. Some nights, he will camp in the great outdoors, and some he will spend staying with hosts he plans to meet on an app called Warm Showers.

According to their website, “The Warm Showers Community is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink.”

“I am nervous about how well I will do with exhaustion and the heat,” he said. “But, I am planning to take it pretty slow, and I have been doing some training with progressively longer rides on the unicycle down the Kingsport Greenbelt. I also added more and more weight on the unicycle and rode up and down hills.”

Because a unicycle doesn’t coast like a bicycle does, Anthony must pedal constantly in order for the unicycle to move forward.

“Every mile that I’m going is under my own power,” he explained.

Though they admit that they are a little nervous for their son, they explained that are comforted by trusting that God will keep their children safe.

“We always prayed that God would not only keep them safe but also make them dangerous,” said Jan Limiero.

“Ultimately, their safety is up to Him,” David added. “Our job was to prepare our kids to be adults, go out and be dangerous.”

This is also not the first time that a member of the family has done something David called “slightly crazy.”

Anthony’s sister, Carissa Albritton, decided at age 14 that she wanted to go to China for several months to serve as a missionary.

“She literally flew to China from California on an airplane by herself,” said David. “This included spending about eight hours in a very large airport in China all by herself. She ended up working in a coffee shop where people learned English, and she got opportunities to talk about Jesus.”

He went on to explain that, for Anthony, this 300-mile trip will serve as, “just one more adventure on his bucket list of adventures.”

If you would like to sponsor Anthony on his journey, you can visit his website at https://anthonysunicycletour.com/#givenow.

Rogersville officer charged with DUI after motorcycle accident

ROGERSVILLE — A member of the Rogersville Police force is on suspension from his job after he was arrested Sunday evening for DUI and other charges.

A report by the Tennessee Highway Patrol said that just a few minutes after 10 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2019, troopers responded to a report of a motorcycle accident on East Main Street in Rogersville, near the intersection of Burem Road (SR 347).

According to the report, Christopher James Funk, 43, of Rogersville, was apparently headed east on the main thoroughfare through town when his 2016 Harley Davidson ran off the right side of the street and overturned onto its side.

The driver was still at the scene, THP said, and “exhibited signs of impairment”.

Funk “refused to perform field sobriety tests or submit to a breath and or blood test,” the report states. “A search warrant was obtained by the Tennessee Highway Patrol for a blood test. During the investigation a handgun was also discovered belonging to the driver.”

Funk, who was not injured in the crash, was transported to the Hawkins Co. Jail where he was formally charged with failure to maintain lane, DUI (first), violation of implied consent, possession of a handgun while under the influence, and having no proof of insurance.

He was released from jail on Monday morning and arraigned in Hawkins Co. Sessions Court.

A former deputy with the Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Office, Funk has been employed by the Rogersville Police Department since January, 2013.

Funk’s next court appearance is Jan. 15, 2020, and he will remain suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal charges against him.

St. Henry celebrates 55 years with mortgage burning

ROGERSVILLE — On Sunday morning, July 28, 2019, St. Henry Catholic Church, of Rogersville, celebrated its 55th anniversary and the burning of the mortgage from the 2013 addition to the building,

Bishop Richard Stika came from Knoxville to celebrate with the members of St. Henry as did several members of the Knights of Columbus. At the end of the service, the church eld a mortgage-burning ceremony during which St. Henry’s Father Bart Okere symbolically burned the mortgage for the building’s most recent addition.

The service concluded with a meal catered by Riverfront Bar and Grill.

Though the church members regularly took up an offering for the building fund, a recent gift from an anonymous donor allowed the church to pay off their mortgage.

During the service, nearly every pew was full, and a sense of pride could be felt among the members of the church.

“What is a local church,” asked Bishop Stika during the service. “If you look at the environment of a parish, there is so much that goes on between Sunday to Sunday – the building of community, of praying together, of celebrating together, of mourning together, and praying for each other. The strength of a community of faith—that’s what we saw here in this historic place called Rogersville.”

“My GPS still does not know where this church is,” Stika added with a laugh. “But, by your effort, by your witness, and by your desire to be Catholic, you don’t need a GPS to know about St. Henry’s.”

Catholics impacted Hawkins County long before St. Henry’s was built

Though a GPS may not recognize the location of St. Henry’s, Rogersville Catholics have been impacting the town and its surrounding areas for even longer than the 55 years that the church celebrated.

Within a letter written by Catholic Missionary Priest Father Stephen Badin in 1800, Badin explained, “concerning the Catholics in East Tennessee, I have lately been informed that there are nearly 100 families in Hawkins County, not far from Knoxville. They are mostly of Irish breed, and satisfactory account was given to me of their fidelity to the principles of faith.”

Over the next century, Catholic churches sprang up in Knoxville and Greeneville, but it wasn’t until the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants’ Union of North America established headquarters at Pressman’s Home in Hawkins County in 1910 that Hawkins County Catholics had a local building in which to worship. At the time, Pressman’s Home consisted of a sanitorium, a hotel and a technical trade school. Mrs. George Berry, wife to the founder of Pressman’s home, was a devout Catholic who arranged for an area Priest to offer Mass in the sanatorium whenever possible.

According to the program distributed at the church’s 50th anniversary, Haskell Phipps, who attended Mass in the sanatorium called the building “The Sand.”

A non-denominational chapel was built at Pressman’s Home in 1926 to memorialize the members of the International Printing Pressman’s Union who had served in the First World War. Beginning in 1935, Mass was held there monthly and was eventually held weekly.

With roads far more primitive than those of today, the trip to Pressman’s Home was difficult at the time.

The 50th anniversary program also mentioned that Madeline Armstrong, who remained a member of St. Henry’s until her death in 2016, “would get her five children up at 5 a.m. and then promise them honey buns at the Lance Motel if they would keep moving and help her get them to church on time.”

Phipps explained that his family, too, awoke in the wee hours of Sunday morning to make the trek to Pressman’s Home.

“When 5:30 arrived on Sunday morning, we were up and getting ready for Mass,” he said. “If it had snowed overnight, we went to Mass. If the roads were slick, we went to Mass. If it was very cold, we went to Mass.”

The current building was built in 1964

Father James Enright, O.P. encouraged the congregation to begin a building fund in 1950 with the hope of constructing a Catholic church near Rogersville. The Catholic Church Extension Society of America, which had already provided financial assistance for the construction of several area Catholic churches, agreed to give money towards the construction of a church to be named after St. Henry, who historically became the King of Germany in 1002 and later became a priest. This was followed by another donation from a local bishop.

In 1962, Mr. W.M. Wickham of Bloomfield, Kentucky donated the two-and-a-half-acre lot on which St. Henry currently stands, and the first Mass was celebrated in the newly constructed church on July 5, 1964.

In July of 1981, the church was declared a parish. After previously being part of the diocese of Nashville, St. Henry was included in the diocese of Knoxville after its establishment in 1988.

St. Henry Parish is now made up of approximately 150 families.

“I don’t feel as much a parishioner of St. Henry, as I do of being a member of a family,” wrote Carol DeGroff, who has attended the church since 1995, in the 50th anniversary program. “Remember, He has the whole world in his hands. The whole country needs more St. Henrys.”

A message that is still relevant even after 55 years, Father Bernard Niedergeses said during the church’s first service, “We can all be justly proud of this church–not for ourselves—but because of the honor and glory it gives to God. We are pleased with the good architectural work, and the excellent construction work. We are grateful to all who have helped. We are especially grateful to Mr. Lace Rogan and Mr. Tom Rogan, who are primarily responsible for the reality of this church. But, all of you have had a part, and I hope you will feel a sense of satisfaction at your accomplishment. I’m sure that God is well pleased, and that St. Henry is honored to lend it his name.”