Original Author: Pullen, Mark
Date of Material: 02/26/1992
Reviewed Date: 06/28/2021
MTAS was asked if broad emergency powers are given to county as well as city fire chiefs.
Recently you sent me a query on whether the provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated section 6-21-703 applied to the City. My answer is yes. The key is found in the first sentence of the statute, which reads in relevant part, "When any fire department or company recognized as duly constituted by the commissioner of commerce and insurance pursuant to §68-17-108. . ." the statute then lays out broad emergency powers given firefighters. The case of Tennessee Manufactured Housing Ass'n v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville, 798 S.W.2d 254 (Tenn.App.1990), gives some general rules of statutory interpretation and points out that words in a statute are given their natural and ordinary meaning. In this case the main word is "any" and thus we can presume it means all that qualify. If a municipal fire department has filed the proper paperwork with the insurance commissioner pursuant to §68-17-108, then it has these powers. You mentioned in our phone conversation that your city has complied with this provision thus you have these powers.
The confusion arises since §6-21-703 is found in City Manager-Commission Charter chapter of the T.C.A.. It is not uncommon to find laws which apply generally in specific portions of the T.C.A. and bewilderment is the natural result. This particular statute was originally passed in 1921 and was organic to the legislation setting up the City Manager-Commission form of government. In 1975 the statute was amended to include the "any" language. This amendment alone manifests a clear legislative intent to include all municipalities in the statute. It is my suspicion that prior to 1975 you would have been correct in your feeling that these broad powers would only have belonged to fire chiefs in city manager municipalities, but the amendment cured this. T.C.A. 5-17-103 also specifically grants these powers to county fire chiefs.
Please feel free to contact me if I may be of any further assistance on this or any other matter.