When the Department of Transportation builds the eastern bypass around Thomson beginning next summer it will pass through McDuffie County Fire Station 1 (the one across from the law enforcement center). Because of this, we are being forced to build a new station. Paul Watson wrote a letter to the editor because he is concerned that the county may relocate the station in the process. He made statements about people not having fire protection therefore having their homeowner's insurance premium go through the roof and urged you to call your commissioners to let them know that you are concerned. I am writing this letter to briefly respond.
It is true that there have been discussions about the best location for the new fire station; however, no decision has been made. The new station may very well end up very close to where the current station is. The thing that got the discussions about moving the station started is the fact that the new station will be staffed with paid personnel 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It simply does not seem to make sense to build and staff a county fire station within a mile of a staffed city station when we work together as well as we do. Our initial discussions were to have a "dropped boundary" agreement which means that the closest fire station to the call responds regardless of whether it is a city station or a county station. The second closest station would also be dispatched. Once on the scene, the department with jurisdiction would then take over. With this type of agreement, moving the station south to around Clark's Store (Boneville area) would seem to make sense. We would then have a manned county station north (airport) and south (Boneville) and two manned city stations to cover the heavy population in the city and the immediately surrounding areas. These four stations would operate very much like a single department.
While all of that sounds great on paper, Mr. Watson was correct in pointing out that there are potential pitfalls with the plan. Mr. Watson, however, was incorrect when he implied that we were making a knee-jerk decision without considering the consequences. Currently the county fire chief, city fire chief, county manager and city administrator are researching and gathering the information we will need to make an informed decision. As part of the process we will likely bring in someone from the Insurance Services Office to give us guidance and tell us the impact of whatever decision we make on insurance rates. This decision is a very complicated one with many, many possibilities. The only thing I can tell you about it at this time is that we will not leave anyone without fire protection and your fire insurance will not increase as a result of our decision.
Mr. Watson also stated that the city had no business being involved in the decision we make about the station location. That kind of statement is the reason many other communities are not progressing. We have always been great at working together in this community to provide higher levels of service for everyone, city and county, while maintaining a millage rate in the lowest one quarter of the state. I would expect in the not too distant future they will be combined. With that in mind, the city needs to be involved in this decision.
You have my word that we are studying this issue very carefully and are considering all of the facts. When we have a solution that makes the most sense based on the facts, we will inform the media and they will inform you. That will be the time to make your voices heard if you disagree. I hate this issue has caused such a stir. I simply felt like the citizens in the southeastern part of the county (Moose Club Road, Boneville, Ellington Airline Road and Dearing) deserved coverage by a manned fire station if we could do so without negatively impacting other areas of the county. Whether we can or not remains to be determined. If you feel the need to make a call, please call Mr. Watson and urge him to work with us in gathering the facts needed to make an informed decision and have a positive impact on the greatest number of our citizens.