A fast-moving fire destroyed a house Wednesday at 15 Kelly Drive in Tusculum.
Owners Auther and Genevieve Thompson were not home when the fire started. No injuries were reported, but the brick, ranch-style house was gutted by the smoky blaze.
The Tusculum Volunteer Fire Department is within a mile of the house at the corner of West Street. Firefighters arrived quickly.
Smoke and fire spread to the roof and attic areas of the house, preventing initial entry, said Tusculum firefighter Eric Price, incident commander.
Some areas of the house were accessed after the flames were brought under control. Safety entered into the decision not to do a walk-through after the fire was extinguished, said Price, who is also a battalion chief with the Greeneville Fire Department.
“There was so much damage, it was really not feasible for us to get in there,” Price said Wednesday afternoon.
The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation.
The fire was called in about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday.
“It’s pretty much a total loss. It’s got smoke and flame engagement all the way through it,” Price said.
Tusculum police Chief Danny Greene said the school resource officer at nearby Doak Elementary School, Deputy Wayne Wilhoit, saw smoke coming from the house and went to investigate. He found it burning.
“It was pretty much fully involved when (firefighters) got there,” Greene said.
Price, who lives nearby, said the fire quickly spread to the attic and roofline.
“When I first got on scene, fire was coming out of the rear of the structure,” he said. “It had already breached the attic space.”
Firefighters were able to pull some of the ceilings down and extinguish the flames. West Street in the area of the fire remained closed for several hours.
Firefighters cleared the scene about 3 p.m. Multiple departments responded to the fire, including Newmansville, Sunnyside, the Town of Mosheim cascade truck and Debusk Rehab unit.
Also on scene were the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, Greene County-Greeneville EMS and Greeneville Light & Power System.
The Thompsons are longtime Tusculum residents. The couple just celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in December. They are being cared for by relatives, Greene said.
Chaplain Danny Ricker assisted at the scene, and the Red Cross is also providing assistance, Price said.
“It just breaks your heart. It’s a lifetime of memories in that house,” Greene said.
Given temperatures in the low 30s and the intensity of the blaze, Price said firefighters “did an excellent job.”
A damage estimate was not available Wednesday afternoon. The house is insured, Price said.
The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen deferred action Tuesday on a request to provide funding for replacement of the gymnasium floor at Hal Henard Elementary School.
The board also gave its approval for improvements at the McKee and Main intersection and purchases for the Public Works and Police departments.
The board addressed the Church Street bridge project with town officials saying they understand residents’ frustrations with the situation. The bridge was ordered closed last May by the state due to safety concerns and is in the process of being replaced. The latest estimate from the contractor is that the project should be completed in three weeks, depending on favorable weather.
“We know it has been most inconvenient for people living over there. It is a situation that the town had no control over. Bridges all come under the state of Tennessee,” Mayor W.T. Daniels said.
“We know it has caused people a lot of aggravation, and the town has done everything possible it could do to make this as pleasant as it can be,” he said. “You have heard of Murphy’s law. If anything could go wrong there, it did. Hopefully now we see a light at the end of tunnel.”
It is fortunate that there were not safety issues before the bridge was closed and that it did not cause issues with the water lines or other utilities located underneath, Daniels said. Issues with those main lines could cause water outages not only inside the town but also in the utility districts in the county that are served by the Greeneville Water Commission, he added.
Some of the delays in the construction of the bridge have been due to the moving of a 12-inch water line and the replacement and moving of a 20-inch water line that required hiring an outside contractor to install valves to keep from having widespread water outages during the replacement period. Other utilities such as a natural gas line have also had to be relocated. In addition, the sewer line underneath the bridge has had to be repaired multiple times, and a storm sewer drain is being relocated.
After much discussion, the board decided to defer action until its Feb. 18 meeting on a request from the Greeneville School System for the town to partner with the district and private donors in providing funds to replace the gym floor at Hal Henard School. The school system is seeking $50,500 in funding from the town.
Greeneville Director of Schools Steve Starnes said the current gym floor has an estimated life span of 20 years and has been in place for 22 years. The floor is beginning to tear at the seams and is worn in places, he said.
The gym, which is about 12,000 square feet in size and seats 3,200, serves a variety of purposes for the school system and the community, he said. In addition to use by Hal Henard for physical education classes, the gym is the home court for Greeneville High School basketball games, hosts graduation, and is used for such community events as the Ladies Classic basketball tournament and Greeneville Women’s Club Holiday Bazaar.
“It is a real jewel of our community,” Starnes said. “We would like to ask the town to partner with the school system and a private group of individuals to replace the floor.”
That private group has committed to provide $50,500 and already have $20,000 in the bank, he said. The school system has budgeted $82,100 for the project, he said.
The school system is making the request at this time to be able to secure a contractor and have the project completed during the summer break, Starnes continued.
Smith told the board that if it decided to grant the request, the $50,500 would come from the town’s fund balance, which has already been used for other projects.
Alderman Scott Bullington asked if the school system could wait and complete the project in July, which would allow the board to fund the project in the next budget year. Starnes said it would be possible for the school system to cover the town’s share and then be reimbursed in the next budget year.
Smith expressed concern about committing a future board to the funding if the board decided to follow that path.
Alderman Jeff Taylor said he and the board support the school system, but the timing is difficult as the Church Street bridge project has created unexpected expenses, the board is considering the emergency medical service and work on Depot Street as part of the Downtown Redevelopment Project is expected to begin in the spring and may hold unanticipated costs.
In other business, the board gave its approval to a plan to make safety improvements at the intersection of McKee and Main streets. To keep from moving existing power poles, the improvements include removal of the sidewalk on the right side of McKee Street and construction of a new, Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalk on the left side.
The board also approved the purchase of a 2009 Mack garbage truck from Johnson City for $30,000. Town Engineer and Public Works Director Brad Peters explained the truck is a surplus vehicle for Johnson City and would be replacing a truck that served as a back-up for the department. That truck recently caught fire, and the purchase will be made using the insurance settlement.
A purchase of five in-car cameras to replace aging equipment for the Greeneville Police Department was approved as well as purchase of ammunition under a state contract.
The board approved a special event sign request for the Antique Appraisal Fair & Show on March 21, hosted by the Greene County Partnership’s Department of Tourism.
During the meeting, the board presented the GHS girls soccer team and coaches with town coins for winning the state championship last fall.
The Public Works Department has made new “Titletown” signs listing the championships won by GHS, Peters announced. The signs will be placed at entrances into town near the Mt. Pleasant Industrial Park and at Walmart, replacing existing GHS championship signs.
The board heard a proclamation recognizing GHS for earning the “Titletown” designation as the winner of 17 championships, the most in the state in its division.
Establishing a municipal emergency medical service continues to be considered for Greeneville, but the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen is giving the proposal careful deliberation.
While no action was taken Tuesday during the board meeting, the aldermen agreed to continue exploring creation of the emergency medical service and to consider designating space to house an ambulance in the Greeneville Fire Department’s planned new station on Carson Street.
City Administrator Todd Smith thanked the Greeneville Fire Department committee that has researched what would be needed to start an emergency medical service for the town’s residents. The information was presented to the board at its last meeting.
Now that the board has had an opportunity to study that information, the next step is deciding the direction the mayor and aldermen want to pursue, Smith said.
Mayor W.T. Daniels said one question is whether the board needs more time to consider that information before making any decision regarding the service’s establishment.
“This is a big step,” he said.
An emergency medical service would be a benefit to the community, the mayor continued.
The emergency medical service has been considered for some time after the fire department started providing first responder services more than a decade ago, he said. Discussion of the service came to the forefront last year after the town began reviewing its joint ventures with Greene County following a 13-cent increase in the county property tax rate for property owners within the Greeneville corporate limits.
Daniels said the town’s discussion is not a reflection on the Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Medical Services, which provide a quality service. Neither the town nor county allocate funds for the EMS operations as it is self-sufficient through revenue from private insurances, Medicare and TennCare.
However, the mayor said, the fire department receives no revenue from first responder calls, and there is a cost in the wear and tear on trucks and equipment. With an emergency medical service, residents in town will experience faster response times, and there is also an avenue for revenue, the mayor added.
“This is a service that people expect,” he said. “I can see it beginning as expansion of the first responder and may take the place of the first responder service.”
Alderman Jeff Taylor said one of his concerns is how a service would be staffed as there is currently a shortage of qualified emergency medical technicians and paramedics in the region.
While there are efforts to help build new training programs locally, it will take some time to build up a pool of candidates, he said.
Perhaps a task force needs to be formed to address this issue while continuing to discuss the service, Taylor continued.
“This service is of critical importance to the community, and it needs to be launched the right way to not be overburdening,” he said. “That causes wear and tear on staff that is not beneficial.”
With the construction of a new fire station on Carson Street, the aldermen asked if “build out” space could be left for a possible ambulance bay in the new structure, which is under design.
The Greene County Commission approved purchases Tuesday of ambulances and solid waste equipment.
The commission approved the purchase of two ambulances and heart monitors for Greeneville-Greene County Emergency Medical Services. The cost for the two ambulances is estimated at $380,000, while a cost of $310,000 is estimated for nine heart monitors. The $690,000 in funds for the purchases will be taken from unassigned fund balance reserves.
The ambulance purchase is this year’s scheduled replacement of two vehicles as part of the Emergency Medical Services’ recommended plan to replace its fleet incrementally.
Agency officials told the EMS Board last week that if the ambulances are ordered soon, the vehicles can be manufactured as part of the current production schedule and be delivered later this year with ambulances that were ordered last year as part of the replacement cycle.
The purchase of the heart monitors is also a replacement for existing equipment nearing the end of service life.
The commission also approved $80,000 for solid waste equipment to upgrade convenience centers and roll-off containers to be made available for rental to businesses, manufacturers and individuals.
The money will be taken from the Solid Waste Department’s undesignated fund balance. The purchases include two compactors for convenience centers and nine roll-off, open-top containers.
Greene County Mayor Kevin Morrison explained that the purchases will help the Solid Waste Department comply with Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation requirements at the convenience centers.
Possible rental of the roll-off containers is also being explored as a source of revenue to help offset the increased contract cost for the disposal of solid waste in the county, Morrison said.
The two compactors are to improve convenience centers in the south end of the county with the goal of placing a compactor at the South Greene convenience center on the Asheville Highway, he said. The center currently is not equipped with a compactor.
The commission also approved two budget transfers for Greene County Schools. One is a budget amendment to transfer $158,532 from the system’s undesignated fund balance for facility improvements at Mosheim to prepare for the middle school conversion. The other is an amendment to reflect the $273,195 in state grant funds the district has received for the purchase of six propane-fueled buses.
An increase in budgeted revenues of $52,994 for the Sheriff’s Department from a variety of sources was approved. The funds are to be used equipment and personnel expenses.
A presentation was also made to the commission by Gypsy Tweed and Dr. Amanda Mitchell about improving animal welfare in Greene County. They presented information about issues caused by overpopulation including diseases that can spread to people and the need for new animal regulations to encourage responsible pet ownership.