Hanceville mayor clarifies City’s position on J.B. Pennington fire


Hanceville Fire Rescue was on scene, with its ladder truck, for three days in March 2017, helping to put out the fire at J.B. Pennington High School in Blount County. / Tribune file photo

I think the City is more upset at Blount County School Board’s insurance than we are at Blount County School Board.”
Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail

HANCEVILLE – Last week, The Tribune reported that a controversy existed between Hanceville and the Blount County Board of Education over an unpaid bill from last year’s fire at J.B. Pennington High School, which the City hoped to settle in a simple and friendly manner.  (See www.cullmantribune.com/articles/2018/01/12/hanceville-annexes-hopewell-church-cemetery-fire-department-issues-addressed.)

The Tribune story did not arouse any negative feedback, but did get the attention of a Birmingham broadcast news outlet, which dispatched a reporter to Hanceville for a story that ran on Friday’s evening news.  When another local outlet posted an online story stating, “Blount Schools Stiffing Hanceville,” backlash from Blount County residents began almost immediately.

The Tribune spoke with Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail for clarification of Hanceville’s position on the matter.  The Tribune also reached out to the Blount County Board of Education, but due to the weather-related school system shutdown, school office staff was unavailable.  The Tribune will make the BCBOE’s response available when it is received.

The J.B. Pennington fire

According to Nail and Hanceville Fire Chief Rodger Green, beginning on March 21, 2017, Hanceville Fire Rescue incurred more than $11,000 in expenses during three days of service to the Town of Blountsville, which requested assistance from Hanceville via the county 911 service, despite not having a mutual aid agreement.  

According to Green at last Thursday’s Hanceville City Council meeting, “The call came from Blount County 911 to Cullman County 911, and they dispatched us.  So they were requested by the Blountsville Fire Department.”

At the time responders arrived at Pennington and found the attic of the main building fully involved, they determined that a ladder truck would be required to get firefighters to the roof, but none was available in Blount County.   Hanceville Fire Rescue kept its ladder truck and other vehicles, along with crews, on the scene for three days.

Also, according to the Hanceville officials, the Blount County Board of Education superintendent assured them in October that he would work toward getting them paid after they agreed to lower the bill to $10,000.  As of the first of 2018, though, no evidence had yet appeared to indicate that Blount County’s board or its insurance company were moving toward payment of the bill.

Mayor Nail on Hanceville’s position

“Well, I think a little bit of clarification is this: we have a billing company that bills for a lot of fire departments in Alabama, and also bills for the majority of fire departments in Blount County.  And what I really want folks to understand: I think a lot of folks misinterpreted, or maybe we didn’t put it out there very clear, but what it boils down to is most insurance companies has, in their policies, wrote into the policies where they pay the fire departments for responding.  

“Hanceville is a paid/volunteer fire department.  We depend, not only on folks paying their fire dues, but also on money that the insurance companies pay.  The Blount County Board of Education’s insurance has a history, according to our billing company, of paying fire departments in the past.  They have paid fire departments the cost.

“So really, what we would like to do is: we think the Blount County Board of Education should put pressure on their insurance company to pay this.  I mean, it’s like I said: they’ve got a history of paying in the past, and we just think they should pay us.  And I know at least four departments in Blount County that they have not paid, either, and, you know, we’re all about our schools, and want to support our schools.

“You know, some lady said on Facebook, ‘Oh, we’re taking money away from the kids.’  Well, that’s just silly.  No, we’re not taking money away from the kids.  But I will say this: fire departments struggle.  Even the Hanceville Fire Department struggles, because the City has to put funds into the fire account, usually about every couple of months, to keep them floating–to pay their bills.  And the volunteers is no different.  If you get a bigger city like Cullman or Decatur, or Huntsville, their revenue stream in those cities is so large, that it’s not important.  But in a smaller town like Hanceville and these volunteer fire departments, it is very important.  That’s how we pay the bills.  

“And, you know, I hate, and it’s just a terrible tragedy that their school burnt.  We done all we could do.  But there’s also another thing that a lot of folks don’t realize: Hanceville was there three days.  And day two and day three–that was on the request of the Blount County School Board and the contractor (who removed the roof).  The contractor said, ‘We can’t do our jobs without a ladder truck here, because they actually had to pull the metal off the building.  And when they pulled the metal off the building, it would flare up and start burning again.  And our ladder truck was there to put it out immediately.  So really, day two and day three, we were really more like contractors than a fire department, because we was assisting the contractor so that they could pull the metal out and actually get the fire out, because we couldn’t.  There had to be a contractor there to basically disassemble the building to get the fire out.

“So my concern is: the contractor got paid, and we’re basically there to assist the contractor upon request of the Blount County School Board, and that’s the situation.

“You know, I guess the school’s money is tight, but a fire department’s money is tight, too.  The basic fire truck costs half a million dollars.  A ladder truck or an aerial device will cost you a million dollars.  So it’s not like we ran over there in a two or three thousand-dollar truck and started trying to assist to put a fire out.  So these large pieces of equipment cost a lot of money.  They cost a lot of money to operate.  

“And as we had a crew at Blountsville, Hanceville was probably the busiest fire department in Cullman County.  The three days that we were at Blountsville, just guessing, but we probably ran six or seven calls in those three days we were at Blountsville.  So what does that mean?  We had to call in people to man our fire station.  Well, that costs money.  We couldn’t leave our home territory unprotected.  We always want to help and be a good neighbor, but the thing is: our first responsibility is to the citizens of Hanceville.  That’s our first responsibility, and the people in the Hanceville fire coverage area.

“Now, we always want to be helpful but, you know, it puts us in a terrible situation if, let’s say that we’ve been at Blountsville and on day two or day three, and Wallace State had caught on fire.  It would have put us in just a terrible situation.  Now, we do have a mutual aid agreement signed with the City of Cullman, and they would’ve came, but still, that’s kind of where we are on that.”

As the conversation drew to a close, Nail wanted to be sure that one point was clear:

“I think the City is more upset at Blount County School Board’s insurance than we are at Blount County School Board; because Ralph Mitchell, who is the biller–he probably has several hundred fire departments he bills for . . . he says that Blount County School Board’s insurance company has a history of paying claims to fire departments.  Now, that’s why we’re upset, because why won’t they pay this claim?  You know, that’s really what it boils down to.”

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