Welcome to Oglethorpe County Fire and Rescue, the website of the Oglethorpe County Volunteer Firefighters Association. Fire protection is not provided by the county, although it provides some financial support of its volunteer fire departments and provides emergency communication through Central Dispatch E911. Fire protection and vehicle extrication is the responsibility of its volunteer fire departments. Search and Rescue is the responsibility of the volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The Oglethorpe County Emergency Managment Agency (EMA) is funded by the county and oversees CERT and provides some support for the fire departments.
The Association helps its 14 independent volunteer fire departments and the Oglethorpe County Unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission in their goal to improve their response to incidents through joint training, courses, standard operating guidelines and improving communication and equipment. The Association represents its members to government agencies, insurance companies and the public.
The Philomath Volunteer Fire Department will hold a fundraiser on Saturday, May 19 2018, from 11 am to 2 pm. There will be two offerings. Smoked Boston Butts will be offered for $25 each. Preorder only. There will also be BBQ plates for a donation of $8 per plate. Contact and department member or call Johny Buckman at 706 274 3582 or Linda Bryan at 706 318 7666.
SATURDAY, MAY 19, 2018 - SANDY CROSS VFD FUNDRAISER
The Sandy Cross Volunteer Fire Department will hold its annual Chicken BBQ Fundraiser on Saturday, May 19, 2018. Tickets are $10. There will also be a raffle for a grill; tickets for the raffle are $20.
07 APRIL 2018 - WOODMENLIFE HONORS LOCAL RESPONDERS
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 03 May, 2018]
Volunteer Fire Fighters, Law Enforcement, and EMS and EMR Honored
On Saturday, April 7, WoodmenLife, Chapter 39 honored the Oglethorpe County Volunteer Fire Fighters, EMS & EMR, and Law Enforcement.
President W.T. Fields and Vice President Tim Faust presented American Flags and Certificates of Appreciateion to the 14 volunteer fire departments, EMS & EMR, and the law enforcement center. Congressman Jody Hice sent Thank You letters.
Also present for the Flag Presentation were: The mayors from Arnoldsville, Crawford, Lexington and Maxeys; Spencer Hogg from Congressman Jody Hice's Office; and Winfeda Smith, WoodmenLife Representative.
Food and fellowship was enjoyed by all.
Katie Carrouth was the photographer and Dennis Helmreich, Attorney at Law, printed the Certificates of Appreciation.
We cannot thank our firefighters, emergency medical personnel, first responders, and law enforcement enough for all you do for the citizens of Oglethorpe County. back to top
Group photo by Katie Carrouth, posted on 15 April 2018 on the WoodmenLife Chapter 39 Facebook Page. Additional photos of the event are also posted there. A direct link to the above group photo is Here.
SATURDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2017, BASIC FIREFIGHTER CLASS
LIVE FIRE AND FINAL EXAM
Seven of the nine students in the 2017 Basic Suppression Fire Fighter Course were able to attend a late-rescheduled Live Burn Exercise and Final Exam in Morgan County. All of them passed both components. Gene Porter and Corry Lane of Madison Fire Department and Nigel Bullard and David Harper of Newton County Fire Department were the instructors. Stephen Bray of Arnoldsville VFD and Douglas Spencer of Vesta VFD (and Instructor for the whole course) helped.
SATURDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2017, BASIC FIREFIGHTER CLASS
The Basic Suppression Fire Fighter course continued with a four-hour live exercise at the Elbert County Fire Training Center. Five Elbert County firefighters, Justin Hobbs, Chris Eaves, Chris Kabas, Brent Driskel and Daniel Naew, were supported by Stephen Bray of Arnoldsville VFD, Cody Post of Beaverdam VFD, David Huff and A.J. Wiles of Pleasant Hill VFD and Douglas Spencer of Vesta VFD (and Instructor for the whole course). Medical supervision was provided by Kayla Avery and Noah Edge. The firefighters guided the students in Smoke Drills, which practice fire suppression and interior search and rescue in a heavy smoke environment.
MONDAY, 06 NOVEMBER 2017, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS MEETING
The following video was captured from YouTube. Advance to 27 minutes to see the discussion that is reported in The Oglethorpe Echo article below.
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 09 November 2017, extensive editorial corrections made, not all of which are indicated]
Pittard commits to step up on cancer insurance if legistlature doesn't
HB 146 was not on the county agenda Monday night. But the controversial firefighters cancer insurance bill received extensive attention during the public comment period following the regular agenda.
The issue also got a commitment from county commissioner Billy Pittard that he had a plan to deal with the issue and that people would not be seeing drastic increases in their house insurance because of the bill.
Pittard explained that if the Standards and Training Division [GFSTC] came in and cited the county departments that they would have 40 days to appeal. He pointed out that the state legislature would be in session shortly after the first of the year and that he was hopeful that they would come up with a payment plan or an exemption for small rural fire departments.
Stephen Bray spoke to the board as a member of the Arnoldsville Volunteer Fire Department and as a [paid] firefighter in the Atlanta area.
He noted that there were cancer causing agents in everyone's house and that rural [firefighters] were exposed to the same kind of hazard that big city and suburban [firefighters] face. He said he also thought that local [firefighters] were not properly equipped in many cases. He urged the board to do what they could to support the [firefighters].
Terri Allen, an insurance agent with Farm Bureau, pointed out what kind of percentage increases home owners might well face if all fire districts were assigned [an ISO] ten rating. That is the current planned sanction if a fire department is not compliant after the first of the year.
Russell Rowe, a resident of Lake Oglethorpe, wanted to know what [was] the procedure for having a special tax approved to support the fire departments. Pittard pointed out that [fire] tax districts had been proposed for the county eight years ago, but because of the almost four year lag time in having the required referendum and stetting a budget and then getting the money, the Commissioners opted to give each fire departments a half mill of the assessed value of the property in the fire districts they covered.
Pittard suggested that Rowe approach the Fire Chiefs
Association and come with a funding plan they could agree on.
Pittard warned Rowd that if the [plan] included special tax districts to support fire departments that the voters in each district would have to approve the plan before it was implemented. He also noted that there were many people that did not like any kind of tax increase.
Connie White from Crawford asked if the state provided any funds for the county's support of fire protection. Pittard said he assumed she was referring to the Insurance Premium Tax. Many fire department supporters argue that the fire departments and other emergency services should get all that tax. Pittard explained that the Insurance Premium Tax was a 1 percent tax on all insurance policies sold in the county. The tax was indeed used to fund the fire departments but it could be used to fund other items. The county uses much of the tax to roll back property taxes. Thus if more of it was given to the fire departments, then the property tax would have to be increased.
Several other speakers addressed the commissioners about offering more support to the fire departments. Carl Young argued that the county wanted the fire [departments] to fight fires and cook barbecue every weekend to raise money. Young said [firefighters] like to spend time with their families and grandchildren too. back to top
50-50 GRANT APPLICATION TO THE GEORGIA FORESTRY COMMISSION
DEADLINE 22 DECEMBER 2017
The details of the GA Forestry 50-50 grant are apparently now stable. Contact Ms. Emily Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org, 478-751-3504, for any questions. She is the GFC Rural Fire Defense Coodinator.
The second announcement memo, of 23 October 2017, details the priorities of the program and the additional items that have to accompany the grant proposal. Three bids are required for most items. A Federal EIN is required. An IRS W9 form may also be required. The maximum match by the GFC is $ 5,000 for items purchased for $ 10,000 by a fire department. That is, GFC eventually reimburses the department for $ 5,000 and the fire department pays a net of $ 5,000.
SATURDAY, 04 NOVEMBER 2017 - WATER SUPPLY
VOLUNTEER SUPPRESSION FIREFIGHTER CLASS
Georgia Fire Academy Instructors Danny Stephens and Mark Millirons taught a course on Water Supply at Beaverdam VFD station and Highland Drive subdivision. Beaverdam supplied Tanker 10 and a smaller tanker. Jason Hamby, Jay Post and Cody Post of Beaverdam VFD, Jesse Carter of Arnoldville VFD and Douglas Spencer of Vesta VFD helped during the training.
The suppression students and some of the support students from the Basic Firefighter Course participated. The goals were to learn how to deploy and recover drop tanks, connect drop tanks and to draft with a primer pump to establish prime through the centrifugal fire pump. All were accomplished.
SATURDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2017 - VEHICLE FIRE TRAINING
VOLUNTEER SUPPRESSION FIREFIGHTER CLASS
The Volunteer Suppression Firefighter Class trained on vehicle fires on Saturday, 21 October, 2017 at the Vesta Volunteer Fire Department. Water was provided by the Devils Pond pumper and a Vesta tanker. Instructors were Steven Bray and Jessie Carter.
The vehicle had been burned several times before, so pallets, lumber and dead wood had to be added periodically to simulate a vehicle fire. Teams of two approached the vehicle, instructed by Bray, and used straight streams or fog streams, for protection, followed by straight streams to suppress the fire. At the end of the excercise, two recently-trained Support Firefighters, who were observing the training got the opportunity to use a charged hose.
THURSDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2017 - CANCER INSURANCE DISCUSSED IN CRAWFORD
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 19 October 2017]
Firefighter cancer insurance is main topic at Crawford Council
The Crawford City Council had a lengthy discussion about cancer insurance for fire fighters at their most recent meeting. Oglethorpe County Emergency Management Agency Director and Firefighter's Association President Douglas Spencer spoke to the council about the issue at their October 10th meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Terry Brewer led the council meeting in Mayor Jimmy Coile's absence, who was out of town. Spencer had requested to address the council about fire department cancer insurance and department funding.
He informed the council that the state was now requiring all fire departments to have cancer insurance on every fire fighter on the department's roster. Spencer said the standards were the same whether the department was a large, professional station or a rural, volunteer department such as those in Oglethorpe.
House Bill 146 requires that the insurance be in place by January 1, 2018. Since he first found out about the new requirements, Spencer said he had been trying to find an exemption for the county, but he had "exhausted all options."
The cheapest insurance policies that both Spencer and Crawford Fire Chief Lynn Shedd had found were at least $200 [article said $2,000] per fire fighter per year. Spencer said most of the county's fire departments could not afford that as it would be at least a 30% increase in costs for them.
He explained that if the local departments spent the funds necessary to acquire cancer insurance, most would not have enough money left over to even operate the department and fight fires. Therefore, he had decided to recommend to the county's departments that they not purchase the insurance and just accept any consequences that may occur so they can "keep doing their job" in the meantime.
Without the insurance in place, Spencer said a department would be considered non-compliant, and ISO (Insurance Service[s] Office) will not certify a non-compliant department. Therefore, the department's ISO rating would automatically go back to a 10, which is the highest [worst] rating, because the department would cease to exist in the eyes of ISO.
In addition, any fire fighters with a pension would lose it. Spencer noted that many of the county's fire departments currently have an ISO rating of nine or ten, so the increase wouldn't affect those as much as it would others like Crawford, where the rating is six.
He admitted that rural, volunteer departments like those in the county were "between a rock and a hard place" with the new standards. His choice was to suggest that departments "operate illegally if they have to" so that they can continue responding to emergencies as intended.
Spencer said he had spoken with five departments in the county so far, and all of them had agreed to go without the insurance for the time being. He noted that he had spoken with the Oglethorpe County Board of Commission[ers] Chair Billy Pittard to see if the county could provide additional funding to help the departments cover the cost of new insurance.
However, he said Pittard stated that the state, not the county, should help pay to enact the legislation that it wrote and passed, which Spencer added that he understood. [Please see the exchange of emails, below, published in the 12 October edition of the The Oglethorpe Echo.] The council members were all very upset by the news of the insurance requirements, as Spencer and Shedd were.
Councilwoman Sandra Sheridan said she agreed with Spencer's recommendation to not get the insurance unless they had to. The both noted that a department would receive a 30-day grace period if it was found to be non-compliant.
Spencer mentioned that the requirements would also have to actually be enforced, which has not always been the case in the past, he added. Thus, the council agreed that they would wait and see what the other local departments planned to do before they made a discussion.
Several council members said they wanted to do more research on the house bill and see if there was anything that could possibly be done to affect change. They unanimously voted to table the issue until the November meeting.
Spencer also recently participated in the online show EMS Underground, hosted by Charles McFall with the Georgia Institute of EMS. [See Below for the video.] They discussed House Bill 146 during the show, and Oglethorpe County was referenced numerous times.
Rep. Micha Gravely, who authored the bill, was also on the show to participate in the "open discussion about the intent and possible fallacies in the bill," McFall said. He noted that several Oglethorpe residents called in to the show to make comments about the situation. back to top
SATURDAY, 14 OCTOBER 2017 - EXTRICATION TRAINING
VOLUNTEER SUPPRESSION FIREFIGHTER CLASS
The Registered Volunteer Suppression Firefighters class held a practical excercise at Greg Gabriel's on Saturday, 14 October 2017. The instructors included Jessie Carter and Jehru Post. EMS, suppression firefighters and other observers also attended.
13 OCTOBER 2017 - DISCUSSION OF CANCER INSURANCE ON EMS UNDERGROUND
WITH CHARLES MCFALL AND DOUGLAS SPENCER
Below is the video of a 90 minute Facebook podcast of EMS Underground, hosted by Charles McFall on Friday, 13 October 2017 with an interview with Douglas Spencer. [The link to the original posting is Here.]
THURSDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2017 - CANCER INSURANCE LETTERS THE OGLETHORPE ECHO
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 12 October 2017]
This is an exchange of emails about a new requirement for cancer insurance for volunteer fireman [sic] in the county. The missives are from Douglas Spencer to Billy Pittard along with a response. There is a letter to Ga senator Lee Anderson from Pittard.
To: Billy Pittard
First, a request from the Fire Association for a budget amendment at the November BOC to cover the cancer insurance premium. It was a remarkably civil discussion, which mostly centered around how the legislation was created and if there were any exceptions. Toward the end of the conversation Nancy Bryan asked that the Association get on the November BOC agenda; it was put in the form of a motion with unanimous support. Not sure that was necessary, as I explained you and I had already talked. Regardless, they wanted me to make the request.
To: Douglas Spencer
It's unfortunate the the association has decided that they are [a] political activist. With that said, no, there will not be an amendment to cover the cancer insurance in November, and no, the association will not be on the agenda. We have a public comment session and anyone in attendence is welcomed [sic] to speak for three minute [sic] with no discussion from the board. If you, or the association members want to come and comment during the public comment session then fine.
But, I will tell you (again) in advance that this problem, in my opinion, needs to be directed towards those that enacted it (the legislature, specifically Trey Rhodes and Lee Anderson) before you begin to approach the board of commissioners. They voted for it so let them fund it or provide an exception.
Oglethorpe County Board of Commissioners
As you will see, the VFD's [sic] in Oglethorpe county have requested that the county government fund their mandated cancer insurance (estimated at $275 per). You will also see that "I" have to intensions to oblige. Further, you will see tht I recommend the association contact you and Trey for the funding or an exemption.
It is my understanding that if the departments do not comply with the mandate then they will will become non-certified by standards and training and the areas that they serve will get an ISO rating of 10. I'm personally willing to see if this happens. If so, I will definitely let our constituents know that we (the county government) had nothing to do with their ratings and premiums going up. Rather, this was simply a matter of political grandstanding with mandates on the locals that are unfunded by those who created the mandate. And that will be the absolute truth.
I know that it would have been terribly unpopular to vote against the bill. However, I challenge you and Trey to attempt to explain how the lack of cancer insurance for volunteers (that don't care to have the insurance) should affect their ability to provide fire service and the related ISO ratings and insurance premiums. I also request that you introduce legislation that will provide an opportunity for volunteer agencies to elect not to participate without consequence.
The intentions were pure, the consequences, not so much.
Oglethorpe County Board of Commissioners back to top
TUESDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2017 - SCBA, DRESS AND EXTRICATION
VOLUNTEER SUPPRESSION FIREFIGHTER CLASS
The Registered Volunteer Suppression Firefighter class held a practical excercise at Arnoldsville VFD on 10 October 2017. Instruction in the use of SCBA (on loan from Winterville VFD), tests of rapid dress, and introduction to extrication equipment followed a lecture on Lighting and Rescue. Jessie Carter was the primary instructor.
03 OCTOBER 2017 - REGULAR ASSOCIATION MEETING
UNFUNDED CANCER INSURANCE MANDATE
There was extensive discussion about the unfunded mandate for departments to provide cancer coverage for their firefighters starting in 2018 (see number 4 in the news item immediately below).
The following motion was proposed, seconded and passed without objection:
"The Association will present a request, in 2017, to the Board of Commissioners for additional funds to cover the Cancer Coverage mandated to start in January 2018." back to top
30 SEPTEMBER 2017 - MINUTES OF EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING
Attending: Douglas Spencer, President (elected); Josh Tucker, Vice-President (elected); Jessie Carter, Rescue Captain (Ex Officio); Glenn Galau, Public Information Officer (appointed) Absent: Christopher Owensby, Secretary/Treasurer (elected); Jehu Post, Secretary/Treasurer in Waiting (elected); Stacy Worley, Training Officer (appointed); Unfilled Position, Deputy Director OCEMA (Ex Officio); Alice Williamson, CERT Chairwoman (Ex Officio) Visitor: Cody Post, Beaverdam FF
Several informational items were discussed. No position or action was taken with any of them.
1) Departmental Compliance
There are several requirements that have to be met for a fire department to be in compliance with the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council (GFSTC). Among them are:
a) A roster of at least six firefighters. These must include four Registered Suppression FF, an Apparatus/Pump Operator and a Chief. The Apparatus/Pump Operator and the Chief may be Registered Support FF (this is perhaps an oversight and may change to Registered Suppression FF in the future).
b) All Suppression and Support FF must have completed 24 hr of Professional Development per calendar year (see below) to remain in Registered status.
c) Incident reports to NFIRS (through GFIRS) must be up to date;
d) Minimum apparatus and equipment;
e) Cancer Insurance on FF (see below).
If a home is not within the district of a compliant fire department, it may not be insurable and not be able to be mortgaged.
2) Department Mergers
Vesta, Wesley Chapel and Devils Pond have signed documents approving the merger of all three departments into a new department in which the three entities will then be stations. GFSTC will assign a new FDID number to the new department. The name of the new department will be The Oglethorpe Consolidated Fire and Rescue Department. It will include Rescue. The interim Chief will be Douglas Spencer.
Each station will control its own financial affairs, including retaining its yearly donation by the Board of Commissioners (BOC).
a) All Incident, Training, Pension, and other records will be consolidated. All stations will be treated as members of the same department.
b) ISO will have a single point of contact.
c) There will only be one, consolidated, roster for the department. It will not distinguish the home station of the FF. Thus, present departments with insufficient number of FF will be able to continue as a station.
3) Reporting Professional Development
In addition to reporting the number of hours and the topic of each course for each FF at GFSTC, there must also be records in the department of claimed professional development hours for each FF, both Suppression and Support. To be counted, there must be a certificate from a third party or records of completing a skills examination or completing a written examination appropriate for the topic of the training.
For 2016, 24 hr and for 2017, 24 hr, or
For 2016, less than 24 h, but for 2016 plus 2017, 48 hr.
Hours from a prior year cannot be carried over to a following year. For instance, having 50 hr in 2016 counts only as 24 hr in 2016, the extra 26 hr cannot be used in 2017.
4) Cancer Insurance
The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) lobbied the State to pass a law requiring that each FF have cancer insurance coverage. Oglethorpe County Billy Pitard is the Vice-President of ACCG. ACCG has a relationship with a particular insurance company that offers this coverage. It is unlikely that Medicare, Medicare Gap, or other medical insurance coverage counts toward this mandate. Douglas reported that Billy Pitard would not support the county adding that coverage to its yearly contributions to the departments.
Douglas reported that George Johnson (who is the insurance agent for the Association's present three insurance policies) quoted a premium of $ 275 per FF per year (assuming 150 FF). At about 135 FF presently in the county, that is about $ 37,000 a year. Similar coverage with a significantly higher premium is reported to be available from the ACCG affiliate.
FALL 2017 - SUPPORT, SUPPRESSION, AND PUMP OPERATOR TRAINING
The Association will hold three firefighter courses this fall. Goals, requirements, and schedule are in the 2017 Training Packet.
Lecture and most practical drills will be at the Arnoldsville VFD from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm on some Saturdays.
The Support Firefighter course is from Thursday, 14 September [delayed due to Irma], to Thursday, 05 October. It costs $50 and does not require a textbook.
The Suppression Firefighter course includes the Support Firefighter course and continues to Saturday, 02 December. It costs an additional $200 and requires a textbook described in the packet. Passing the written and practical exams earns the student the status of Registered Volunteer Suppression Firefighter.
Support or Suppression Firefighters can then take the following Pump Apparatus Operator Course, which runs from Monday, 04 December, through Saturday, 16 December. This course also requires a Class F driver's licence. It costs an additional $50 but does not require a text. Its goals are to teach firefighters how to drive and operate engines and tankers.
Seventeen students from Arnoldsville VFD, Beaverdam VFD, Crawford VFD, Philomath VFD, Salem VFD, Vesta VFD, Winterville VFD and Wolfskin VFD completed the Support Firefighter section and nine are continuing with the Suppression Firefighter section. back to top
18, 19, 25 AND 26 FEBRUARY 2017 TRAINING - INSTRUCTOR I
Douglas Spencer taught a 40-hr course, Instructor I, designed to certify the student to teach prepared courses to public safety students. The Instructor I is also expected to have personal experience in the subjects that they teach. back to top
11 FEBRUARY 2017 TRAINING - IC: UNDERSTANDING YOUR SIX SENSES ON THE FIREGROUND
David Bullard reviewed how the six senses can be used to understand what is happening at an incident and how to act on that information. The 4-hr course was held at the Training Center and was attended by about 12 Oglethorpe County firefighters. An interesting take on incident command. back to top
In the first of what will be many iterations of reviewing the Association's 2007 SOGs, Association President Douglas Spencer proposed new versions of four SOPs. They were read this evening and will be voted on during the 07 March 2017 Association meeting. They were: 1) Drugs and Alchohol; 2) Radio Communications; 3) POV Emergency Lights; and 4) PPE. back to top
26 JANUARY 2017 - LEXINGTON'S RESPONSE TO POSSIBLE COUNTY FUNDING
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 26 January 2017]
Lexington agrees to county fire funds
Douglas Spencer came to the Lexington City Council without a hat for the January meeting.
But when he explained his jobs he really should have been wearing three of them.
Lexington Mayor Rick Berry has been soliciting county funds for the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department for much of the past year.
Spencer, who is head of the County Emergency Management Agency, President of the Oglethorpe County [Volunteer] Fire[fighters] Association, and Chief of the Vesta Volunteer Fire Department, came to the meeting to inform Berry and the council that they would likely be receiving $7500 from the county.
He also explained that the money would be deducted from the approximately $15,000 the commissioners had been allotting to the City of Crawford.
Spencer also gave the mayor and council background on how money was traditional allocated to the 14 volunteer fire departments in the county, and how he would like to move forward with that distribution in the future.
Berry said he thought it would be foolish for the city to turn down the money although he had some misgivings about Crawford having their allotment cut in half.
Berry said he had been assured that Mayor Jimmy Coile of Crawford and the council had stated and repeated at their January meeting, when they were informed of the funding reduction, that while they were upset with the county, they were not mad at Lexington for seeking funding.
Spencer explained that even if Lexington did not accept the funding from the county, it would not go back to Crawford, but instead into the county's general fund. He admitted that there were probably some issues between the City of Crawford and the Commissioner's office.
Spencer said that originally the athe county was divided into fire districts. A half mill of property tax in each district was assigned for fire protection funding to the volunteer fire department that served that district.
The City of Lexington, at the time, served inside the city limits, had a mutual aid agreement with the City of Crawford and Wesley Chapel, and charged a subscription fee to anyone else with[in] a three to five mile radius of the Lexington fire hall.
The fund for volunteer fire departments had since been frozen at 168,000 and was not really set at the half-mill value for fire districts anymore.
The funds from the subscription service have been declining, especially over the last year.
Beaverdam receives the most of any of the fire departments in the count, approximately $28-$29,000. Crawford had been second at 15,000. Most departments receive $10-12,000, while Vesta was at $7,000.
Spencer pointed out that the Insurance Service Organization (ISO), a private company that gives fire department ratings and then sells that information to insurance companies, now sets the fire rating by determining if a house is within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant and within five miles of a fire station.
Part of Berry's argument, over the past year, to County Commissioner Bill Pittard and County Administrator Josh Hawkins, has been that the City of Lexington has put in well over a million dollars worth of water tanks and water lines, with hydrants. This expenditure by Lexington was essentially reducing the number of people that were willing to subscribe to their Class Six volunteer fire department rating.
Questioned why insurance companies increased rates to some subscribers if they didn't pay subscription for Lexington fire protection, Spencer replied that it was nothing to do with the ISO rating on a particular property but a decision by the insurance company.
Spenceer noted that the City of Lexington has been answering calls outside the city for at least the last year, regardless of whether a property was on the subscription list. Spencer said that the subscription list was not a concern or the county of the ISO.
Berry also pointed out that the county's other fire departments were making use of $12,000 in radio equipment that the city had donated for their use.
Spencer said that as head of the Fire Association he hoped to do away with the current map. Funding decisions would instead, he said, be based on a minimum flat amount to each department, and then addition funds based on the performance of the fire departments.
Each department would be required to submit a budget, and then monitored for the number of personnel, the amount and quality of equipment, the training provided for personnel and meeting other reporting requirements.
Berry noted that while preparing the expected budget for the county and going over last year's expenditures the city had spent $11,000 more on fire protection than had been allocated. Those funds came out of the city's general budget.
Spencer noted that from the state's perspective, there shouldn't be any difference in the basic training and equipement for a fireman whether he was in downtown Atlanta or podunk Vesta.
The change to the allocation of fire protection funds might well be in place by the county's next fiscal year, Spencer said. back to top
26 JANUARY 2017 - LETTER TO THE OGLETHORPE ECHO EDITOR
COUNTY FUNDING OF FIRE DEPARTMENTS
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 26 January 2017]
County funding of fire departments should not be a zero-sum game
I hope to clarify some of last week's front page article concerning a possible transfer of half of the county's annual support of the Crawford Volunteer Fire Department to the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department, which as yet has not been funded by the county. It is also an opportunity to correct misunderstandings about fire protection that are held by many of our residents.
All firefighters in the 14 fire departments in the county are volunteer. No firefighter in the county gets a penny for the time they spend responding to incident calls, attending training or maintaining their stations, trucks and equipment. Departments have to report to the State about their training and the incidents to which they respond. They write grants for new equipment and apparatus. If successful, they have to come up with matching funds.
Departments try to recruit and retain new members. Firefighter safety and capability depend on their equipment as well as their training. No department has the spare cash to spend the $8,000 required to outfit a new firefighter. This impacts firefighter morale, recruitment and effectiveness in fighting fires.
Furthermore, the cost of running a department does not scale with the number of calls or any other measure of a department's performance. Most of the cost is just having a department in place capable of responding.
Income comes from contributions from their government(s), fundraising, donations from residents and too often from the firefighters. Departments have to triage the competing demands of routine operating expenses, insurance premiums and maintenance and replacement of apparatus and equipment.
The unincorporated portion of the county and the four municipalities within the county, Arnoldsville, Crawford, Lexington and Maxeys, each receive money from a tax on home insurance premiums paid by property owners within its borders. The tax is primarily intended to pay for fire protection. The amount of this income and what fraction of it goes for fire protection should be obvious in the budgets of the five governments.
The county 2017 Proposed Budget, available at onlineoglethorpe.com, has Insurance Premium Tax income as $700,000 and Volunteer Fire Department expenditures of $170,000. The county distributes this to the departments in its unincorporated fire districts, but it also supplements the income of three of the four municipal departments because they have historically covered calls outside their city limits. The amount that the county gives to each of these 14 fire departments has not significantly changed in many years. The distribution is based on the assessed value of property in the fire districts as of about eight years ago. It is not based on present valuations, population, square miles, or the number or type of incidents in each district.
Insurance premium tax income and expenditures are not readily available for the four municipalities, but their departments do receive some of it and in-kind donations from their city councils. Arnoldsville, Crawford and Maxeys also get funds from the county because, like all of the departments in the unincorporated parts of the county, they respond to incidents outside their boundaries. Lexington joined the Oglethorpe County Firefighters Association in January 2014, with the understanding that they would respond to calls outside their city limits, which they had already been doing. Thus Lexington has been eligible for county funds for at least the past three years but has not received any. In order to calculate an equivalent amount for Lexington using the present BOC funding formula, it seems that its district boundaries would have to be expanded at the expense of neighboring departments. That does not seem reasonable.
Fire protection throughout the county depends on multiple fire departments. For reports of structure fires, brush fires, vehicle fires and activation of smoke or fire alarms, 911 Central is supposed to dispatch three fire departments at once and continue to dispatch additional departments until it is certain that three departments are responding. For the most part, 911 Central does this. Descriptions of most incidents in 2015 and 2016 are available at oglethorpefirerescue.org.
It is inaccurate to characterize Crawford and Lexington, or any group of departments, as dividing up a common territory and each taking a part of it. In 2016, Crawford responded to about 73 incidents and Lexington to about 44 incidents. They were both present, usually with an additional department, at about 28 of these incidents. As is true for all other departments throughout the county, Crawford and Lexington cover each other and their neighboring departments.
It is way past time to increase the amount of the insurance premium taxes that are returned to the departments by the county and the municipalities. It is past time to develop a more reasonable formula to distribute these monies. The Lexington problem has to be solved. Efforts to do these have been started by both the BOC and the Association but they have been stalled for over half a year. Hopefully the present controversy will produce some progress in these directions.
Public Information Officer
Oglethorpe County Volunteer Firefighters Association
oglethorpefirerescue.org back to top
14, 5, 21, AND 22 JANUARY - HAZMAT AWARENESS AND OPS - ELBERTON
A brief summary of the 2016 incidents, as recovered from 911 Central Dispatch and other sources, has now been added to the desciptions of individual incidents on the 2016 Incidents page. The full taxonomy of the incidents is available as 2016incidentsummary2.pdf. The brief summary is reproduced below.
19 JANUARY, 2017 - CRAWFORD CITY COUNCIL REACTION TO POSSIBLE CUT IN COUNTY FUNDING OF FIRE DEPARTMENT
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 19 January 2017]
Additions for clarity, and to correct matters of fact, are in brackets.
Crawford upset with reduction of funds from county for fire dept
The Crawford Crawford City Council had a lengthy discussion regarding fire departments and county funding at their January meeting. It was held on Tuesday the 10th.
Oglethorpe County Firefighter's Association President Douglas Spencer was present at the meeting to speak to the council. He is also the director of the Oglethorpe County Emergency Management Agency.
Spencer informed the council that the Oglethorpe County Board of Commissioners is considering cutting the funds that are normally given to the Crawford Volunteer Fire Department in half. The other half would be given to the Lexington [Volunteer] Fire Department.
He explained that the BOC use a map of the county to determine how much money each department gets annually. The amount is determined by the property values in each community.
Spencer said the Lexington Fire Department is not included on that map because they weren't part of the Firefighter's Association when [the map] was created. The department joined the association about 5 years ago [it was January 2014].
Crawford's fire department receives over $15,000 from the county each year. Thus, Spencer said the commissioners are looking at giving Crawford approximately $7,500 this year, with Lexington receiving the other half.
The Crawford council members were immediately upset by the news, as was Crawford Fire Department Chief Lynn Shedd. He stated that the BOC should take a portion of the funds from each department to give to Lexington, instead of just from Crawford, and the council agreed.
Shedd pointed out that the Crawford Fire Department assists many of the other departments in the county with calls. Mayor Jimmy Coile added that the department did not provide service outside the city in the past until the county agreed to help fund it.
Therefore, he stated that if the county cut the city's budget for the fire department, he thought the department should cut what it did outside the city. Several of the council members noted that Lexington's department had always been run by the city until recently [that has not changed], and it didn't answer calls outside of the city unless the caller was a subscriber [not true after Lexington joined the Association].
Councilman Seavy O'Neal remarked that the issue sounded like "Lexington's problem, not Crawford's." Shedd mentioned that the department's insurance alone is $5,000 each year.
Coile said that the city's taxpayers purchased both of the department's fire trucks and all of its equipment. He added that they couldn't take the taxpayer's money and use it outside of the city.
When asked, Spencer reported that the county provides about $160,000 in funding annually that is divided among 15 [actually 13, not including Lexington] fire departments in Oglethorpe. He said he didn't know yet if the funding cut for Crawford was definitely going to happen, but he believed it would, and he just wanted to make the city aware.
Spencer noted that he had been trying to revise the financial procedures for the fire departments for a while. He agreed with the council that he didn't think different departments should receive such varied amounts of funding.
He emphasized that all of the decisions regarding county funding were made by the BOC. However, Spencer remarked that he believed the commissioner's thinking in splitting the funding was that if Lexington is doing half the work in the same area as Crawford's department, then they should receive half the funding.
O'Neal replied that if Lexington wanted more money, they should find a way to generate more instead of taking it from other departments. Coile added that Crawford's department could not "operate that way" with less funding.
Spencer estimated that he should know for sure if the county was going to cut Crawford's funding or not around the first of February. The council pointed out that they had already budgeted $15,000 in funding from the county this year, and their budget was "extremely tight" as it was.
Coile said it was too late for the county to "pull the rug out from under us," and he would be talking with the city attorney about it. O'Neal echoed that it was "bad business" and "disrespectful" of the BOC.
Mayor Pro Tem Terry Brewer stated that he felt the city needed to "take a stern line" on the issue. O'Neal said the board needed to look at all of the fire department's budgets instead of "taking the easy way out and creating bad blood over $7,500."
The council was in agreement that the county needed to look into the situation more thoroughly for next year's budget instead of doing it this year. They felt it was too late in the budgetary process for the city's department to receive such a cut.
Coile instructed Spencer to tell the BOC that Crawford was not in agreement with their fire department's budget being cut. He added that if the county went ahead with cutting their funding, then the city would have to cut their service to areas outside the city limits. back to top
03 JANUARY 2017 - REGULAR ASSOCIATON MEETING
COUNTY CONTRIBUTIONS TO CRAWFORD AND LEXINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Lexington VFD joined the Association at the beginning of 2014, but has yet to receive any funding from the county. Association President Douglas Spencer related that he understood that the County Board of Commissioners (BOC) was considering what amount of support they would provide Lexington VFD during 2017 and from what source that would come. Douglas said that the BOC were thinking of reducing by half what they normally contribute to Crawford VFD and giving the difference to Lexington VFD. That means Crawford VFD would have their county contribution reduced from about $15,000 to $7,500, the remaining $7,500 going to Lexington VFD. Douglas related no reasons or motives of the BOC for this unusual proposal.
The attendees at the meeting unanimously felt that this was very unfair to Crawford VFD. This included the mayor of Lexington, Rick Berry, who was present at the meeting. back to top