A friend pointed out the other day that your brain protects you from bad experiences. We remember good things and blur out the bad.
Perhaps that’s why we so easily refer to the “good old days.” We tend to remember things as better than they were in part because the bad pieces are more faded.
By that way of thinking, we’ve probably blurred our memories of how fire service used to work in Columbia County.
To a large degree it didn’t. Not that long ago, the joke was that the fire service in Columbia County existed primarily to cool off your chimney when your house burned down.
As unincorporated Martinez and Evans grew, Hartwell Morris in 1958 used a shed next to his Washington Road grocery store to house an old forestry service tanker. Thus started the Martinez Volunteer Fire Department.
That’s still the department’s legal name, doing business as Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue. Once it comes fully under county government control in a few weeks, it will be the official end of private fire service in the county.
While it might be easy to look back in disdain on those old days, it’s important to remember that until volunteers stepped up, most of Columbia County wasn’t protected at all. In later years, other volunteer fire departments formed in areas such as Appling, Winfield and Leah.
Sure, there were a lot of chimneys cooled. But there were a lot of homes and people saved through the years by those volunteers.
As the county grew, some of those smaller departments struggled. Their funding came from private subscription fees, and many residents just didn’t pay up.
It created a death spiral: Withholding fee payments damaged the departments, leading more people to skip paying.
Appling, Winfield and Leah combined, and eventually were absorbed into the larger Martinez department. County officials found a solution: Charge a fire tax and contract with Martinez for fire service. No one could skip paying, and everyone got better fire service.
When it all happened seven years ago, most people expected the fire department one day would become a county entity. That day is now, coming not necessarily because it’s best, but because an astronomical increase in workers comp insurance premiums is forcing it.
The good news, though, is that it actually is for the best. Taxpayers already own most of the department’s property and equipment; now they’ll also have a greater voice in the department’s operations.
That department, now with 142 full-time staffers and 40 volunteers, has come a long way from the shed next to Morris’ store. For them, and for those of us in Columbia County protected by them, these really are the good old days.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/