McDuffie County Fire Station One will see some major changes within a year if key members of the County Commission's Public Safety Committee are able to make things work like they say they should.
With the Georgia Department of Transportation eyeing Station One's current location on Harrison Road for a future bypass, officials had set aside $400,000 to build a new station on land donated by volunteer firefighter Paul Watson.
Building a headquarters station with training and emergency operations center capabilities as well as staffing the station was high on Fire Chief Bruce Tanner's priority list. And Mr. Watson told commissioners on several occasions that his donation was contingent upon both of those conditions.
With all of that on the table, the Pubic Safety Committee met last Thursday to figure out if those plans were feasible, and if so, how the county could afford to pull them both off.
"Unfortunately there are no free solutions," Chief Tanner told the committee.
The most complicated problem is staffing Station One, he said. It's a problem that Chief Tanner said needs to be dealt with soon because response times from unstaffed stations have increased from an average of 10 minutes to nearly 13 minutes since 2002.
"Twelve minutes is certainly unacceptable," Chief Tanner said. "We have to do something about this. We really do."
Also, the number of volunteer firefighters has steadily decreased since 2001 while the average age of volunteers keeps rising. Having fewer volunteers is directly related to longer response times, according to Chief Tanner.
He and Assistant Chief Stephen Sewell proposed two separate plans to the committee for staffing Station One during the day for the remainder of this year and a third plan that would fully staff the station beginning in July.
Staffing the station 24 hours a day would cost an estimated $72,645 in salary and supplies. According to Chief Tanner's calculations, fully staffing the station for all of 2006 would cost the county $142,000.
Mr. Watson pleaded with the committee to recommend approval of the plan to the full commission. Tuesday night, commissioners did follow the committee recommendation and will take up the staffing issue during their June 1 work session.
"When are we considered to be liable when we see that things are happening and we did not do anything about it?" he asked.
The simpler of the problems is the building of a new Station One. Chief Tanner said it's "just a question of funding what we need." He suggested adjusting the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax spending plan that was recently adopted.
Under Chief Tanner's plan, repairs on Station Six -- the Carolyn Lake station -- would be postponed until the next round of SPLOST. The $200,000 set aside in the current SPLOST to rebuild the station could be added to the money set aside for Station One.
He also found extra funding from excessive estimates for two pumper trucks and one brush truck. All together, the fire department's funding in SPLOST for a new Station One grew to $770,000 toward what he estimates as an $800,000 building.
Construction on the new Station One should be completed by the second quarter of 2006. According to County Manager Don Norton, the DOT will allow the county to continue using the current station until the new one is completed.
The contruction process actually started Tuesday night during the commission meeting, as commissioners directed Cheif Tanner to solicit proposals from architects for a new Station One.
Once the improvements are complete, Mr. Watson contends that they will cause the insurance rating to fall, saving the county money in the long run.