KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A Knox County volunteer fire department in danger of closing has decided to start charging residents.
The Karns Volunteer Fire Department also serves Ball Camp, Solway and Hardin Valley. They've relied on donations since 1978, but say that no longer pays the bills.
When people in the Karns area need firefighters, they expect them to be there. But Chief Ken Marston says many haven't been willing to pay for that guarantee.
"We receive no tax revenue at all and so our donations, while they've remained about the same, the number of calls, the number of people, the number of houses, the number of businesses has risen dramatically," Marston says.
Marston, one of the department's 59 volunteers, says they now serve 50,000 people.
"A normal fire department receives about $151 per person on a national average. In Karns, we get $8 per person," he said.
The new membership plan, which will start in January, doesn't mean the volunteers will get paid.
"Volunteer means that we volunteer our hours, but we can't volunteer fuel, engine costs, the money to light the station. We have to pay workers compensation insurance on all our people, medical insurance in case they get hurt here on the job," he said.
Chief Marston says the membership rate will be reasonable, less than what Knoxville city residents pay for fire service on their property taxes and almost half what Rural/Metro charges in other parts of the county.
"You don't have to join, but if you don't join and you use the fire department, then you're going to be billed for the services," he said. "It's about $2,200 per hour for a fire call. It's about $800 an hour for a rescue call involving a traffic accident, $1,500 if we have to do an extrication, or you can join the department for as little as $100 for a 1,500 square foot home and you're covered."
You can learn more about the new Karns Fire Department membership program Tuesday night at 7:30. A community meeting is being held at the Karns Youth Center which is behind the Karns Fire Station on Beaver Ridge Road.