The Martinez Fire Department is entering a new era with a new name - Martinez-Columbia Fire and Rescue.
Martinez-Columbia Fire and Rescue engineer Paul Casey holds a shirt with the department's new insignia. The Martinez Fire Department has changed its name to Martinez-Columbia Fire and Rescue. The department will begin operating a new station on Clary Cut Road near Harlem in February.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The department, which took over its seventh station on Sugar Creek Drive near Grovetown on Jan. 1, also will staff and begin operating a new station on Clary Cut Road near Harlem starting Tuesday.
Chief Doug Cooper said his department has been discussing the name change for nearly a year because of the department's presence in other parts of Columbia County outside the Martinez-Evans area. But he said the department still wanted to keep Martinez in its name.
"We're well-known across the state and wanted to keep Martinez in the name somewhere," Cooper said.
The once all-volunteer department began small in 1958 with 44 volunteers covering a three-mile radius in Martinez surrounding the first Washington Road station. At the time, subscription fees averaged $12 per home.
When the recently demolished station on Washington Road was built by department and community volunteers in 1961, the department had 1,000 subscribers.
Assistant Chief James Champion said that when he joined the department in 1971, it employed only one or two paid firemen.
But the 1960s were the beginning of tremendous growth in the county and for the department, which now boasts 76 paid personnel and an additional 70 volunteers, Cooper said.
"We're talking getting upwards of around 150 (employees)," Cooper said. "I think we have done a good job of keeping up with the growth."
The department also will begin servicing the entire Interstate 20 corridor, including rest stops, weigh stations and all on and off ramps, said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's Emergency Services director.
In the past, there was confusion concerning which department should be dispatched to I-20 incidents.
"That will keep it simple for dispatchers - anything to do with the interstate, ramps or any of that will just be dispatched to them," Tucker said.
Martinez-Columbia serves 85 percent of the county's population.
Despite the official change, the Martinez Fire Department name will remain the same on stations and trucks, Cooper said, because of the large expense associated with replacing them. Patches for employee uniforms will be replaced by ones with a new name as they wear out.
"We're not just going to up and change everything," Cooper said.
"Everything that we order new will have the new logo on it."
The county's fire master plan, which was completed at the end of 2003, calls for an eventual single consolidated department serving the entire county, minus the two cities.
The three all-volunteer fire departments serving the northwest part of the county - Leah, Winfield and Appling fire departments - merged at the beginning of 2004 to form the North Columbia Fire Department.
Tucker said the suggestion of a countywide, consolidated fire department is not an immediate option, but it will be considered in the future.
"There has not been any particular planning,'' she said. "What we have done right now, I guess, you would call phases toward that. We do think eventually that is the direction it will go, that they all merge and work together as one department ... Anything is possible down the road."
Cooper agreed that the plan, no matter how far off, may become reality someday.
"It could possibly be," Cooper said. "We'll just have to see what the future brings."
On the issue of the department providing ambulance service in the future, Cooper and Tucker said that also could be an option, but the possibility is far off.
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