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Meeting held to clear up issues surrounding Spruce Pine storm shelter

Social media has its benefits. It also has its drawbacks, as was evidenced recently in a debate created surrounding the Spruce Pine Community Center storm shelter.

A recent social media post by an employee with the Franklin County 911 Operations Center listed the various storm shelters available across the county. The storm shelter located at the Spruce Pine Community Center wasn’t on the list.

When some citizens brought this to the attention of 911 officials, they were told the Spruce Pine shelter was privately owned and therefore didn’t appear on the county’s public list.

Immediately, questions began about whether a private storm shelter could be used by all citizens. Sue Bowen, president of the Spruce Pine Historical Society/Community Center, said she began receiving calls from citizens concerned about the ‘private’ status of the shelter.

“People were asking why our shelter wasn’t on the list and, since it was privately owned, who could use it,” Bowen said. “That’s why I called this meeting tonight.”

Bowen held a meeting at the Spruce Pine Community Center last Thursday evening to address concerns and get some clarification about the storm shelter.

Russellville fire chief Joe Mansell, Franklin County EMA director Jody Hitt and Russellville fire marshal Justin Green attended the meeting.

The Spruce Pine shelter, Hitt explained, was one of four obtained through grant funding that provided 75 percent of the shelter’s cost. The Spruce Pine Historical Society came up with the matching funds, and the shelter was installed during the tenure of Franklin County commissioner Howard Hutcheson.

The shelter is on land owned by the Spruce Pine Historical Society, and operation, maintenance and supervision of the shelter falls on that organization. Franklin County probate judge Barry Moore explained the difference between that shelter and others that are publicly owned by Franklin County.

“The grant ran through Franklin County, but in the name of the Spruce Pine Historical Society,” Moore said. “They came up with the matching funds and did the groundwork and electric work.”

Most of the storm shelters located in Franklin County were placed at volunteer fire departments. The shelters are in the name of the Franklin County Commission, but they are opened/closed and maintained by volunteer fire departments, Moore said.

Hitt told members of the Spruce Pine Historical Society that if they wanted their shelter to be added to the public list, they needed to vote on that and send him a written request to add it.

Regardless of whether the shelter is on the public list or not, since it was obtained through grant funding it is available for use by all citizens just like other shelters, Hitt said.

“If you want it public, write a letter to my office and we’ll advertise it with the other shelters,” Hitt said. “It wasn’t on the list because we didn’t know how y’all wanted to handle it. If you want it public, we’ll get it on the list, GPS it and put a sign up directing people to the storm shelter.”

Green said the Spruce Pine shelter is subject to inspection like all storm shelters by the state fire marshal. He explained what the inspector would look for and suggested a regular maintenance schedule.

“You should clean the hoses quarterly that are attached to the dehumidifier,” Green said. “The fan should be on at all times, and the doors need to be shut. It needs to be inspected monthly and must have a five-pound ABC fire extinguisher, labels on the breakers, a first aid kit, a sign-in form, flashlight and weather radio.”

Mansell explained how and when the seven storm shelters in Russellville are opened.

“City policy is that we put a city employee in every storm shelter,” Mansell said. “We want everyone to be safe, so we have a representative at each one just to make sure everyone can get in and be safe.”

Mansell said the storm shelters are unlocked whenever the city is placed under a severe weather watch.

Bowen said she would be contacting officials with Mar-Jac to discuss funding for a second storm shelter.

“We definitely have a need for it. This one is at capacity whenever it is used,” Bowen said.

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