Firefighters from the Martinez Fire Department train on a donated house along Old Petersburg Road. A Columbia County Commission panel reviewing fire services proposed creating three new stations. Doing so would extend the department's territory westward five miles to encompass two North Columbia Fire and Rescue stations. The plan is headed to the commission for further discussion.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
A proposed plan for fire service in Columbia County has sparked plenty of discussion among county and emergency services officials.
Speaking at a Community and Emergency Services Committee meeting Monday, Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker presented a plan outlining the next two years of fire service, including staffing three proposed stations in the rural, unincorporated areas of the county.
The plan includes moving Martinez Fire Department's territory line five road miles westward, encompassing two of North Columbia Fire and Rescue stations.
"This plan was meeting our charge to take the whole county as a blank slate, strategically look at it - who offers what and what was going to give us the best coverage for the same amount of money," Tucker said. "This is what we think would be the best, giving 24-hour coverage to that area."
The Martinez district currently extends west on Columbia Road, encompassing Ivy Falls subdivision and along Washington Road to William Few Parkway.
North Columbia Chief Tom McFarland expressed concern about part of the plan that would move two tanker trucks, with a water capacity of 3,450 gallons, from an area of the county where hydrants are not readily available.
"My biggest concern is that we are doing away with the equipment (and water) that is readily available now," McFarland said during the meeting. "Right now, Martinez has everything covered so well because their stations are about five miles apart. So they have about a 2-mile overlap. What you are doing is stretching them out to the very end of their five miles."
Martinez Fire Chief Doug Cooper said the growth of his coverage area would not be a problem for his department, adding that he could replace tanker trucks with pumper trucks that are able to carry 1,000 gallons of water each and refill at the nearest hydrant.
The plan comes on the heels of a merger in March of the Leah, Appling and Winfield volunteer fire departments to form the North Columbia department and the start of three full-time paid employees for North Columbia only weeks ago.
McFarland said the change would be easier after the new headquarters station at Eubank Blanchard Community Center is completed to help store extra equipment.
Tucker said adding the three new stations, widening Martinez's district and moving North Columbia's equipment to other parts of its district would bring some home fire ratings that are now at a Class 6 to as low as a Class 4 if the home is within 1,000 feet of a hydrant, meaning savings on home insurance. The new stations would also widen the area protected by 24-hour staffed stations.
Tucker said it all can be done for no additional charge in the county's contract for fire services, at $4,631,034 paid to the departments.
Committee Chairman Lee Anderson, Vice Chairman Steve Brown and County Commission Chairman Ron Cross agreed to send the issue to the commission as a debated item.
At the county's management and financial services meeting Tuesday, commissioners agreed to forward Tucker's recommendation to the commission's upcoming meeting for debate.
Commissioner Tom Mercer, however, said he was already convinced that the move of the Martinez Fire Department's coverage area would be a good thing.
"What sells it for me is the Class 4 rating and the 24-hour service," he said. "So I would be for it."
Tucker told commissioners Tuesday that a North Columbia training station on Columbia Road would stay available to North Columbia if they needed it for training. If not, she said, other options could be pursued, including transforming the facility into an ambulance station.
"We're not going to let anything go to waste," she said.
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