The first outward sign of the former Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue becoming a county department came in a box of new Columbia County Fire Rescue patches.
The new patches will don the arms of staff jackets, button-up shirts and dress uniforms.
Otherwise, the Jan. 1 changeover from a county contractor providing fire service to a county-run fire department has taken place behind the scenes.
“It was smooth,” fire department spokesman Jeremy Wallen said. “Operations stayed the same. ... Realistically, I didn’t anticipate it not being smooth.”
The department recently reapplied for its state Medical First Responder Services license under its new name.
As of Jan. 1, fire department Chief Doug Cooper became a county department head, County Administrator Scott Johnson said. Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker previously oversaw the fire service contract, but now Cooper reports directly to Johnson like all other department heads.
“It’s a very well-run department,” Johnson said. “The day-to-day operations still fall under the chief. We’re very pleased with how the department is being run.”
The change was driven by an expected increase in workers compensation insurance for 2013 from $300,000 to $965,000. One of the perks of being a county fire department is the discount for purchasing insurance through the county government.
“We’ve been able to bring them over and completely insure them for less than $100,000,” Johnson said.
County officials previously simply approved the fire department’s budget, but had no real say in how the money was spent or how the department was operated, Johnson said. With the annual budget process beginning, Johnson said county officials can now get involved.
“We’re just beginning the budget process for next year,” Johnson said. “We’re working with the fire department to see if we can trim their budget,” such as eliminating duplicate services for which the county might get better prices.
Wallen said daily operations haven’t changed much, especially since department officials have been working with the same county staff since 2006 when the department began providing fire service for the unincorporated areas of the county.
“It wasn’t like dropping off a cliff with your eyes covered,” Wallen said, adding the chain of command changed slightly as the department was inserted into the county government. “We’ve worked with all these people for years.”
Wallen said officials are making sure the department staff and equipment will soon reflect the new name. They are getting bids from companies to replace staff T-shirts, uniforms, signage at the stations – and of course, insignias on the fire trucks.
“We’re changing those, too,” Wallen said of the 33-35 department vehicles that will need new lettering.
The changeover is complete, but the outward appearance will take a bit to catch up, Johnson said. “The transition will really be an ongoing thing.”