Resident claims VFD didn#039;t respond to call

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 24, 2005

A meeting of the Forest Home Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday night became heated when residents accused the department of ignoring a call for help with a grass fire.

Whitman Kramer, a Forest Home citizen, accused Fire Chief Mickey Sexton and members of the FHVFD of choosing not to respond to an E-911 dispatch on Sept. 5, when a grass fire outside her home became uncontrollable. Kramer said Sexton had previously threatened her at a Butler County Commission meeting, telling her, "You better hope your house never catches fire."

Kramer said she and her husband, Kevin, were able to halt the fire before it threatened their home. She said she then drove to the Forest Home Volunteer Fire Department and confronted VFD member, Mary Till, about her reason for not responding to the call.

Mary Till said she heard the call go out on her radio, but couldn't understand it, but she did hear that Liberty Volunteer Fire Department had been dispatched to the fire. A taped recording indicates that the Liberty VFD was mistakenly dispatched by E-911.

Till said when Kramer arrived, she was irate.

"She was mad and asked us why we didn't come to her fire," Till said.

Till said Kramer left, but returned later to apologize for her outburst.

On Thursday night, Kramer again confronted Sexton about what he had said to her at a county commission meeting earlier. Sexton told her she took that statement out of context and Commission Chairman Jessie McWilliams, who was at Thursday's meeting, confirmed that Sexton had qualified his statement.

Till said Sexton added that he also hoped "his house or anyone else's didn't catch fire" because of the condition the Forest Home fire trucks are in. The fire department recently was notified they would receive a grant for $171,000 for purchase of a new fire truck.

"I assure you I will do everything in my power to respond to a call," Sexton told those assembled at the meeting. "We will do all that is necessary to protect your homes."

But Sexton emphasized the fire department is volunteer. Currently, he said he has seven volunteers he could call on in case of an emergency, but only during the weekends or at nights because his volunteers do have to work.

"I have to have the support of the community," he said. "I can't do it by myself."

Roy Mott, with Fire Support Services at the Alabama Forestry Commission, was also on hand for the meeting to answer any questions residents or VFD members had. Mott said the forestry commission's job is to provide information to volunteer fire departments across the state, but not regulate how each operates.

"We do not control what a volunteer fire department does or does not do," he said.

Sexton said the Forest Home VFD operates on approximately $2800 year. The forestry commission provides an annual grant of $1800.

Mott said from his experience a volunteer fire department needs at least $30,000 a year to run efficiently.