Columbia County officials will gather this morning at Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Engine Co. 13 to rededicate the fire station and unveil a plaque.
Such formalities are part of any community's life. But this event also is a good opportunity to note some of the significant changes and marked improvements it represents for Columbia County.
First, and foremost, hat's off to the owners of that fire station, formerly known as the headquarters of the Winfield Volunteer Fire Department. Just four years ago, Winfield's territory was one of several absorbed into Martinez-Columbia, as Columbia County commissioners voted to implement a fire tax and end the hodge-podge system of voluntary fire fees.
Winfield's territory had one of the higher percentages of non-payers under the old system, yet initially its firefighters and board of directors also were among the more resistant to the county's change.
It is absolutely magnanimous, then, that the Winfield board is now giving the Winfield headquarters to the county so long as it's used as a fire station. The dedication of the station is this morning, and undoubtedly will include lots of words of appreciation for that gift.
The gift also is symbolic of the quiet, significant progress the county has made since 2005. There was no small amount of worry back then, from volunteer firefighters and change-resistant citizens alike.
But collecting fire fees as a tax, and using the funds to pay Martinez-Columbia for fire service throughout the unincorporated county, has been an unqualified success.
No longer are there subscribers receiving protection without paying a dime into the system. Everyone pays, and everyone is protected.
What's more, the fire service has expanded not just in the number of fire stations, but in duties. Firefighters also are trained in emergency medical care, and often are the first personnel arriving at the scene of a vehicle crash or other emergency.
There likely will be other benefits, too; the county's rural areas currently are under review by the insurance ratings agency, and the additional fire coverage could result in lower insurance costs.
Commissioners this morning in Winfield will spend a few minutes making speeches and rightly thanking Winfield's board for its generous gift. They should also take the time to thank themselves for their gift to Columbia County: Better fire and emergency protection for everyone.
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