Skip to content

Norton rebuked by Hadden over published comments

News coverage of last week’s meeting of the Grady County Commission sparked a heated response from the coordinator of Grady County’s Volunteer Fire Departments. Wayne Hadden said he takes issue with concerns voiced at the meeting and printed in The Cairo Messenger that he and the volunteer department chiefs are lax in accounting for their fire fighting equipment.
“We’ve got good people and not a one of them neglect their obligations to this county to do their job to keep up with this equipment deliberately,” said Mr. Hadden, “I would say in their defense, we keep up with a lot of people. Some of these departments have as many as 25 volunteers, so something may fall through the cracks, but we have some of the best people that are in the role of that accountability that Mr. (Charles) Norton keeps talking about. For him to make a comment like this in the paper is unjust and it’s unfair to these chiefs.”
There are 10 fire departments in Grady County, and everyone who works in them does so without pay, with the exception of Mr. Hadden, whose salary is expected to increase from $10,148 to $24,548 this year. The additional $14,500 was budgeted after Hadden requested commissioners include him in the county’s health insurance plan. Rather than add him to the policy that covers full-time county employees, the commission, on a split vote, decided to increase his salary instead.
In discussing the county’s volunteer fire department budget last week, Commissioner Charles Norton stated, “There is no accountability in this department. None.”
Coordinator Hadden said he had to take issue with such a statement, “This is a total disregard of my people that I represent. Total disrespect. These people that I deal with have the utmost integrity, and for anybody to make an accusation that we’re not accountable and responsible for taxpayer’s money and equipment is unfounded and it is untrue. I’m used to being picked on, but when you start attacking and questioning the integrity of these people, that’s when I get upset. I can’t sit idly by and let these comments go unchallenged.”
Hadden maintains that he and the nine other fire chiefs who work in Grady County keep records of each piece of equipment purchased. He said each of the county’s 175 volunteers is issued a set of fire fighting gear, often used previously by a different volunteer. Chiefs instruct their volunteers, according to Hadden, to turn over any gear that is burned or broken beyond repair to the chief so he can inventory it and surplus it at the individual station or turn it over to Hadden.
The volunteer fire coordinator said he turns all surplus equipment over to Grady County Shop Superintendent Larry Hunter. Hadden said last year he surplussed 10 pallets of items from the volunteer fire departments. “There’s nothing wrong with accountability, and we’re doing it. We’re doing accountability,” Hadden contends.
Still, he said negative comments are a concern when leveled at volunteers. “When you’re dealing with volunteers, morale is everything. This kind of article and these kinds of comments and these kinds of false accusations, it really does wear on their morale. It wears on my morale. It’s unfair,” he said.
Hadden has served in the Grady County volunteer fire department since the early 1980s when he joined the service and there were only two volunteer departments, one in Cairo and one in Calvary. Since, departments have opened in Reno, Calvary, County Line, Pine Level, Pine Park, Midway, Whigham County and Beachton. Hadden also pointed out that having the additional departments and, therefore, additional fire protection has helped reduce insurance costs for many homeowners in Grady County.
After a stint from 1990-1993 as the fire chief of the city of Cairo Fire Department, Hadden became coordinator of the volunteer fire department.
“Just the mere existence of these fire departments is saving hundreds of people hundreds of thousands of dollars year after year after year,” Coordinator Hadden said.
The current Insurance Service Organization (ISO) rating for Grady County is 6/9. Hadden explains the lower the ISO rating the cheaper it is to purchase fire insurance.
“If I was a politician and I could see that these fire departments were going to put that much money back into the pockets of the people I represent—that’s a no brainer,” Hadden said.
The VFD coordinator estimates there are approximately 4,000 residences in the unincorporated area of the county and if each one saved $200 on their fire insurance the countywide savings would be $800,000 annually.
Hadden also pointed out that last year the county received $624,597 in insurance premium taxes that can only be used for unincorporated services such as the volunteer fire department or solid waste collection.
He said the proceeds from the insurance premium tax more than covers the budget of the VFD, which was $189,509 this year and is projected to be $220,975 in 2013.
“We have a unique organization. There are very few counties that have the number of volunteers we have and can do the job we do with the minimum cost,” Hadden said.

Leave a Comment