Shifting a few lines on the fire district map is just the start of what could be sweeping changes to fire service in Columbia County.
Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to allow the Martinez Fire Department to start serving both sides of Chamblin Road to Interstate 20, both sides of Baker Place Road to I-20 and 300 feet past Chamblin Road on Columbia Road.
Though the move adds Ivy Falls and Misty Woods subdivisions to the Martinez Fire Department, it cuts into the area served by the Grovetown Department of Public Safety and the Appling Volunteer Fire Department.
That's irritated Appling Chief Tom McFarland.
"It seems like the county staff and now the commission are out to get us," he said.
But county Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker said the move simplifies service. For example, one home in Ivy Falls received subscription fee bills from Martinez, Grovetown and Appling. Plus, the old boundary lines split some streets in half - leading to confused fire crews and dispatchers.
Also, officials made sure that even though the homes may be in a different fire district, the subscription money will not follow this year.
Ron Cross, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said the move is all about giving residents the best fire service they can get. That's also the reason local leaders have been updating the county's 1997 fire services studies.
"We want to have fully-manned fire stations serving all of Columbia County," Cross said.
The main change resident may see is the incorporation of their subscription fee into county tax bills. That way, Cross said, the fee would become tax-deductible and the collection rate would improve, meaning more money in fire department coffers.
Officials hope to have the revised study within two to three weeks, Cross said.
The possible changes already have the support of one local public safety veteran. Former Grovetown Public Safety Chief John Tomberlin said commissioners should collect fire subscription fees and create a county fire services board to oversee the fire departments in the county.
"Too many politicians and others are involved in the decision-making process and the financial process," he said.
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