The fire departments of Thomson and McDuffie County may be one and the same in the future, thanks to the battle over locating a new county Station One.
Current state plans have a new eastern bypass traveling through Station One's location. Volunteer Firefighter Paul Watson donated 6.1 acres of land at the intersection of Salem Road and Harrison Road in April of 2003 to locate the new station, but officials aren't sure if that location will best serve the county as a whole.
The debate over where to put the county's new Station One began to include the location of the City of Thomson's fire stations because officials said they wanted the best fire coverage bang for their buck.
"My position at this time is (I need) to be convinced that that station needs to be right there on the bypass at Salem Road when we've got a city station that's less than a mile from it," said County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton. "It may be that I can be convinced of that. If the facts and figures and whatever else show that that's where it ought to be, then we'll certainly put it there."
For about five years there has been an auto-aid agreement in place between the two fire departments, according to McDuffie County Fire Chief Bruce Tanner. But that may not go far enough for some, such as Chairman Newton who said a boundary-drop agreement may be a step in the right direction, toward consolidation.
According to Thomson Fire Chief Rick Sewell, city crews automatically respond to fires in predetermined areas outside the city limits due to the auto-aid agreement. Under a boundary-drop agreement, the closest two stations to a fire, despite affiliation, would respond.
"When you look at it from a (standpoint of) let's serve as many people as we can, and let's cooperate with the city in doing that if they're willing to have a boundary-drop agreement with us and respond out into the county ... it doesn't make sense for us to cover the same area with a county station," Chairman Newton said.
If a boundary-drop agreement is put in place, county officials hope to locate the fire station further south than the donated land to improve response times in the southern end of the county.
"I don't think an invisible line somewhere should stop us from aiding each other," Chief Tanner said. "I think that's the direction we've been trying to go over the past 11 years that I've been here, and I think that will continue."
Time for talks on the station location has been compressed due to the Department of Transportation's upcoming purchase of land for the bypass in the next few months. Chief Tanner said several meetings have recently taken place with more in the works.
"What I think is going to come of this is we're going to probably expand (the aid agreement) somewhat," he said. "Of course the issue of consolidation is going to be discussed, and hopefully what comes out of all of this will be in the best interest of all the citizens of McDuffie County."
Chairman Newton confirmed that the issue of consolidating the two departments will be discussed in upcoming meetings.
"Consolidation is definitely on the table," he said. "I say we get this boundary-drop agreement done first and sit down around a table as gentlemen and as thinking people and figure out where this station ought to go."
Thomson City Administrator Bob Flanders said city officials are ready and willing to discuss the next step in figuring out what's best for the community.
"We're always anxious to cooperate with the county, and this is another case where a major community facility is going to be sited that will have an impact on the growth and well being of this community for the next 20 years," Mr. Flanders said. "So it's important that we take the time and look at all the alternatives that are available to us and make a wise decision, lest we build duplicating facilities on top of one another."