Welcome to Oglethorpe County Fire and Rescue, the website of the Oglethorpe County Volunteer Firefighters Association. The Association facilitates the 14 independent county Volunteer Fire Departments, the Volunteer Rescue Company and the Oglethorpe County Unit of the Georgia Forestry Commission in achieving their goal to improve their response to incidents through joint training, formal courses, formulation of standard operating guidelines and improving communication abilities and equipment. The Association also represents its members in their interaction with government agencies, insurance organizations and the public that they serve. The Association meets every first Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm at the Lexington Baptist Church at 103 Church Street in Lexington. The Executive Committee meets on the last Tuesday of the month at 6:30 pm at the Oglethorpe County EMA Office at 866 Athens Road (Highway 78) in Crawford. Rescue members from each department meet every last Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm at the Oglethorpe County EMS/Rescue/Training Center at 892 Athens Road (Highway 78) in Crawford.
Although not part of the Association, many of the Association members are also members of the volunteer Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) which is part of EMS. EMR meetings are the second Monday of the month at 7:00 pm, also at the Oglethorpe County EMS/Rescue/Training Center. The county volunteer Community Emergency Response Team supports search and rescue and firefighters in large incidents. It meets the second Tuesday of the month, also at the Oglethorpe County EMS/Rescue/Training Center.
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 twelve 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
03 DECEMBER 2016 - RECRUITS PASS LIVE FIRE DRILL AND WRITTEN EXAM
All four students completed the 95-hr "Basic Volunteer Firefighter with Live Burn" course by doing live structure fire drills at the Morgan County Fire Training Center. At least seven staff from Morgan County, Madison and Newton County generously conducted the testing and training. They described the students as "excellent" and among the very best they had worked with over many years. All four students also passed a written exam held after the fire drills, so are now Registered Volunteer Firefighters!
The course was taught in Oglethorpe County by Douglas Spencer, aided by Stacy Worley, Chad Harrell, Jay Post, Glenn Galau, Zack Dudley and several others. Maxeys VFD hosted many of the live excercises. back to top
The students are, from left to right, Christopher Blackwell with Vesta VFD, A.J. Wiles with Pleasant Hill VFD, and Noah Ray and Jonathan Moody, both with Maxeys VFD.
Chad Harell, Stacy Worley, Gene Porter, Douglas Spencer, Corry Lane, Nigel Bullard, David Harper, Noah Ray, Christopher Blackwell, A.J. Wiles and Jonathan Moody
[Transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 03 November 2016]
County EMRs outfit van as emergency response vehicle
An upgraded van recently joined the ranks of vehicles that can respond to emergencies in the county. The vehicle was outfitted by members of the Oglethorpe County Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) and will be used by them going forward.
Tim LaFlam is the EMR coordinator for the county. Emergency Medical Responders are what were previously known as First Responders.
The name was changed a few years ago for several reasons, including education and the broad nature of the term, according to LaFlam. EMR members provide pre-hospital care to patients on medical calls.
Several months ago, an old van belonging to Oglethorpe County Rescue was given to the EMR program by Oglethorpe County Emergency Management Agency Director Douglas Spencer. LaFlam said he wasn't sure why the vehicle was originally purchased, because it didn't really fit Rescue's needs.
Because of that, the unit sat unused for quite some time. Spencer and LaFlam met about the van earlier this year, and Spencer agreed to transfer it to the EMR.
Since then, LaFlam and Dugh Bach have been working on converting the van so it can be used by the EMR. The vehicle was originally sold as basically a plumber's van, he noted.
Everything in the van had to be fabricated to be converted into a medical unit. Over about four months, they outfitted the basics for maintaining a patient, including an automated external defribrillator (AED) unit, a fracture pack, and airway equipment, along with medical supplies.
LaFlam said about $1,700 was spent on retrofitting the van. An additional $4,570 of donated labor and other materials were put into it as well.
"It was intended for what we're doing with it, so it took us a while to get it ready, working on it in our spare time,: he added. Now, LaFlam said the vehicle is essentially a basic life support medical unit.
"It's sole purpose is what is now written on the van," he said, "Community support and community driven."
The vehicle will be stationed at every major community event from now on, LaFlam noted. It is also at every home football game at the Oglethorpe County High School.
The Oglethorpe County EMS will also use the van when needed for medical calls. That will allow the advanced life support (ALS) medical unit to be freed up for more serious emergencies which might occur at the same time.
The county currently has two ambulances that are in operation every day, and LaFlam said they are occasionally called out to incidents at the same time. In those cases, if response is needed for a third emergency, Oglethorpe has to call on a surrounding county to respond.
Now, with the converted van, an EMR volunteer can respond to any call and maintain the patient on-scene until one of the county's medical units is able to get there. "It's a tremendously expanded role, and it prevents us from having to keep calling on other resources," LaFlam said.
The EMR vehicle will also assist local fire departments when they respond to incidents. The unit will be on scene to provide care to any fire fighters who may need it.
LaFlam emphasized that operating the van will not require any additional funds from the county or anyone else. EMR volunteers will man the vehicle whenever it is in use.
He stated that anytime a group wished to have the EMR van at their community event, they could contact him or Oglethorpe County EMS Director Jason Lewis. "We're really looking forward to reaching out to the community so everybody can get a chance to see it," LaFlam said.
LaFlam noted that the change in the volunteer program came with the "complete support" of Oglethorpe County Board of Commission Chair Billy Pittard and County Administrator Josh Hawkins, along with Lewis. They have seen the importance of the EMS program, and it feels good to have them backing us," he said.
The training that is provided for EMR members is the same as what was orginally classified as basic EMT training. LaFlam said the education for EMR members has been increased so that volunteers can do even more than they could in the past as First Responders.
He stated that EMR members do everything from trying to revive people who have stopped breathing to actually delivering babies on the scene, "and everything in between," LaFlam added. Though he pointed out that the work isn't for everyone, he said more volunteers are always need for those who want to give it a try. back to top
County firefighters are welcome to attend Smoke Drill training in Elbert County on 12 November and Live Fire training in Morgan County on 05 December. Both of these events are part of the Basic Firefighter with Live Fire course. Also, there will be training in hoses and nozzles for small departments on 19 November at the Recreation Department.
Central in now able to send text messages along with the normal pages, as long as a CAD report is being created. These texts include links to maps. Experience so far has been favorable. Contact Douglas Spencer to be added. Phone number and carrier are needed.
Elections were held for officers for the next two years. No nominations were offered from the floor, leaving Douglas Spencer as the President. Josh Tucker defeated Justin Sanders for Vice President and Christopher Owensby defeated Jehu Post for Secretary/Treasurer. back to top
Standard NFIRS Incident Numbers: The present reporting systems for incidents request entry of other departments who responded and the incident numbers that these departments have used for that incident. At present, each department has its own method to determine its incident number, so in order to accurately complete this section, departments must contact each other to discover what incident numbers each department has or will assign to the same incident.
After a discussion by Glenn Galau and Nancy Bryan, it was moved and approved that the following method will be used so that all departments can predict the incident number that will be used by any particular department.
A department's incident number will be what is now called the "Call #" at the top of the Oglethopre 911 Cad Call Card (the CAD report). This number is reported at the end of the short summary of each incident that is posted on the Incidents pages of the Association's website. It will be followed by a dash and the two-digit station number. Station numbers can be found in the left sidebar of the website. For instance, for the following incident reported on the 2016 Incidents page:
Friday, 30 September at 2:44 pm. EMS, EMR, Devils Pond VFD, Beaverdam VFD, Pleasant Hill VFD and the Sheriff's Office were sent to a Smithonia Road address upon report of a structure fire. The fire was confined to a deck and was extinguished without further loss. [CAD 2016-14638]
the incident numbers would be
14638-09 for the Devils Pond report
14638-10 for the Beaverdam report
14638-05 for the Pleasant Hill report
Nominations for 2017-2018 Association Officers
Nominations were invited from the floor, to be voted on during the November meeting of the Association. Additional nominations from the floor will be welcomed immediately before that vote. According to the 2013 By-Laws, the President must be a Chief of a member fire department and the other three officers must by an officer (undefined by the By-Laws) of a member fire department. No Association officers may be from the same department.
It was moved and approved that the office of Secretary and Treasurer be combined, as has been the long-time custom of the Association.
For President: Douglas Spencer (Incumbant)
For Vice-President: Justin Sanders (Incumbant), Josh Tucker
For Secretary and Treasurer: Chris Owensby (Incumbant), Jehu Post back to top
24, 25 SEPTEMBER 2016 - GEMA CRASH VICTIM EXTRICATION CLASS
Thirty-two county Volunteer Firefighters recently gave up their weekend to attend a sixteen-hour course on how to extricate patients from wrecked vehicles. Many of them have had earlier extrication training, but vehicle construction and composition is constantly changing and rescue training has to keep up with the resulting challenges in getting patients out of newer vehicles. Five of the fourteen fire departments have some rescue equipment on their trucks and there are two dedicated rescue vehicles at the EMS/Rescue Center.
Some of the students are already members of the Volunteer Rescue Department (Rescue) or the Volunteer Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) or the Emergency Medical Service (EMS). Unlike EMS, Volunteer County Firefighters, Rescue and EMR members are not paid for their training or the service they perform on incident calls.
The Oglethorpe County Emergency Management Agency coordinated the instruction. The excellent instruction was by Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) Instructors Barry Church and Mike Young. The classroom instruction on Saturday was kindly hosted by the Oglethorpe County Farm Bureau and the live practice was hosted on Sunday by Greg Gabriel.
Teams of students on Sunday systematically took apart six vehicles with hand tools, electrical reciprocal saws and hydraulic-powered tools such as spreaders (the Jaws of Life), cutters and rams. Many scenarios were presented and topics included: rescue team and patient safety; continued stabilization of the vehicle as parts are removed; selecting extraction techniques based on available tools, vehicle position and construction, and patient position and condition; and safe closeout of the incident. back to top
12 SEPTEMBER - 03 DECEMBER 2016 BASIC VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER WITH LIVE FIRE
The Oglethorpe County Volunteer Firefighters Association recently started a Basic Volunteer Firefighter course for new firefighters. The description of the course, the schedule and supporting documents and forms are contained in the Training Packet. This course is identical to the 95-hour course which is taught at the Fire Academy at GPSTC in Forsyth GA.
Douglas Spencer is the lead instructor, with the assistance of Chad Harrell, Stacy Worley, Jay Post and Glenn Galau. Maxeys VFD is hosting many of the practical parts of the course.
The students are Christopher Blackwell of Vesta VFD, A.J. Wiles of Pleasant Hill VFD and Jonathan Moody and Noah Ray, both of Maxeys VFD.
On Monday, 19 September, the students were shown how to safely do tasks at night on the Maxeys rescue pumper and how to don Personal Protective Equipment. back to top
SUNDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2016 - RECOGNITION LUNCHEON - LEXINGTON BAPTIST CHURCH
The Lexington Baptist Church Lexington Baptist Church held a recognition luncheon on September 11 2016 honoring local first responders. This was on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. The following is transcribed from the 15 September 2016 Edition of The Oglethorpe Echo:
911 remembered: Oglethorpe County First Responders Honored
"Honoring Our Unsung Heroes" was the theme of a special day to remember the 15th Anniverary of the Terrorist Attacks and to Honor the more than 350 local First Responders in Oglethorpe County. The event was held at the Lexington Baptist Church.
A large flag flying from the extended ladder of the Lexington Fire Truck with a sign stating "Remembering 9-11" was parked in the church parking lot greeting those who attended the day's events.
The agencies honored included: Sheriff's Department, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Forestry Division, Community Emergency Response Team, Oglethorpe Emergency Management Services, Coroner's Office and the counties' 14 volunteer Fire Departments.
The day included recognition of those present in the worship service, a specially prepared video presentation, a luncheon and program in the afternoon.
Each guest was given a special "goodie bag" prepared by the children of Lexington Baptist Church. Those bags not given out on Sunday will be distributed to agencies across the county.
The video included messages from local mayors, the Chairman of the County Commission, the church's pastor, Georgia Secretary of State Bryan Kemp, Governor Nathan Deal and Congressman Jody Hice. The video also included a tribute to the local agencies.
A program was held during the afternoon with lunch provided for nearly 100 guests representing all of the agencies. The local chapter of the Woodmen of the World, under the direction of Lanier Burden, presented new flags to representatives of the 14 fire departments of the county. back to top
A 16-hour Rescue Specialist Course was offered at Oglethorpe County EMS/Rescue/Training Center at 892 Athens Road (Highway 78) in Crawford. It should count toward the 24 hours of Professional Development now required per year for maintaining Registration for Volunteer Firefighters. back to top
The Fire Association meeting was held at 7 pm on 12 July to accommodate holiday schedules. The meeting was moved to the Lexington Baptist Church (103 West Church Street, Lexington, 30648). The Church offered the Association the use of their Fellowship Hall at no cost.
The subject was the proposed development of an Association Fiscal Policy. Should the Association establish the scope and criteria for interacting with the Board of Commissioners (BOC) regarding their yearly contributions to the expenses of the fire departments beyond what has been required for the last few years?
A history of the recent criteria for these distributions by the county is presented Below. At present, the Association collects individual budgets, conveys them to the BOC and distributes checks from the BOC to the departments under the rules imposed by Motion 3 approved by the Association during its March 2015 meeting. The recent distributions among the departments are based on the tax digests of the fire districts as of several years ago, not on the present tax digests or of the needs of the fire departments.
An Association Fiscal Policy would probably include rules regarding transparency, financial responsibility, and other fiscal matters for itself and for its departments. It would probably include how the Association should distribute money to the departments if it had that authority to do so. Criteria could include the number of calls responded to, time spent in training, or other metrics that may try to capture the needs and effectiveness of a department. Purchase of new equipment with county or county-generated grant funds, and its distribution, could also be an Association decision. This could result in the distribution of county funds and other assets among the departments based on criteria much different than are used at present.
At the meeting, County Manager Josh Hawkins asked for comments from each department. He asked that they speak to: 1) what they understood the objectives of a proposed fiscal policy to be; 2) what they thought would be good about it, if established, and 3) what they thought would be bad about it, if established. Most departments supported more cooperation and unity and were in favor of at least establishing a proposal that could be discussed by the Association. In order to ensure sufficient time for departmental comments, questions from the audience to department speakers were not allowed.
After these comments, a motion was proposed and seconded. The motion was that Douglas Spencer and Josh Hawkins were to select a committee to draft a proposal. The committee was to be comprised of one member of the Association and 5 or 6 members from the community. No time line was included, nor were there any further specifications about the committee members.
A roll-call vote resulted in all votes in favor of the motion. All departments cast two votes except for Pleasant Hill casting only one vote and Crawford not in attendance. Because Rescue is now funded by other money, it did not have a vote in this matter. back to top
SATURDAY, 09 JULY 2016 - RADIO PROGRAMMING CRAWFORD
Ken Pirkle and an assistant from Broadway Technologies spent Saturday reprogramming radios at the Training Center. One goal was to add back the ability to talk directly to Central 911 dispatch through our original transmission frequency. This would be useful if the repeater on the Fire Tower failed or otherwise could not be contacted. Ken also took orders for replacement parts and in some cases checked the performance of radios. back to top
JUNE 2016 - RADIO REPEATER ANTENNA RAISED ON THE FIRE TOWER
The antenna for the Association radio repeater on the GA fire tower has been raised. This action was approved during the 03 May 2016 Association Meeting. Below are the before and after pictures.
Much of the 07 June 2016 Association Meeting was a discussion regarding potential increases in the fiscal responsibility of the Association and how to formulate draft proposals on how to do it for the consideration by the Association.
The subject is hardly new or hidden, regardless of claims by the Chiefs of a few departments. The events of the March 2015 Association Meeting should have made it clear to the membership the direction that the BOC was taking at least 2.5 years ago. Part of that meeting included a unanimous agreement to Motion 3, which recognized a fundamental change in how, as early as 2014, the BOC paid the departments:
Motion 3: As of 2016, each department must submit its budget to the Association at or before its January Meeting. If that is done, then the County Contribution to that department will be available at the February Association Meeting. If that Contribution is not picked up by the department by the end of the March Association Meeting, the County Contribution will be forfeit.
In April 2015, the Association was informed of the distribution of equipment paid in part by or otherwise supported by the BOC through a newly-formed EMC. In August 2015, the Association cooperated with the GA Forestry Commission to purchase and distribute army trucks.
Most recently, as very accurately reported by The Oglethorpe Echo in its 05 May 2016 Edition (which was transcribed and reported here in these pages on about 09 May 2016), Chairman Billy Pitard reviewed the history of the funding formulas for the fire departments since about 2008. He proposed to the Board that the Association be given the responsibility of deciding how to distribute county funds to each department. This would require the Board approving a proposal by the Association, approved by its membership, on how to do so. No action was taken by the Board, but the informal response to Pitard's comments was positive.
In response to requests made at the 07 June 2016 Association Meeting, on 17 June 2016 President Douglas Spencer sent the following to the some 57 email contacts in the usual Association email list. I have added links which I think are useful to document reality - Glenn Galau
Douglas Spencer's Email:
I was asked to provide a written statement explaining the events that lead to the proposal of a fiscal policy for the Fire Association.
In January of 2014, I provided a Strategic Plan for the Fire Association. Goal number three focused on funding.
The first task under this goal is to provide accountability for the county tax funds currently allocated to the Fire Association members. Individual departments had been submitting a budget directly to the Board of Commissioners (BOC), and receiving an allotment of funds usable by request and tracked by purchase orders in the BOC accounting system. This process was revised to allow individual departments to receive checks at the beginning of each calendar year from the BOC, again after submitting a budget. The Fire Association became the intermediary between the BOC and the individual fire departments specifically in the process of collecting budgets and distributing checks. Accountability continues to be hampered by departments not using the BOC provided budget template.
The third task is to develop capital expenditure estimates and a county wide budget. The objectives of the Association as listed in the By-Laws include recommend equipment and supplies and to assist in securing more and better equipment. To accomplish this task the Fire Association has representation on the Emergency Services Commission (ESC).
The ESC, consisting of Sheriff, Emergency Medical Service, Fire Association, Emergency Management, Forestry, Road Department and the Board of Commissioners, was setup to prioritize the needs and concerns across each county department. The group began a long term process to upgrade shared infrastructure, specifically radio and dispatching equipment. To date, the ESC has completed the purchase and installation of computer consoles and software to interface with radio equipment and received approval from the BOC to purchase new software and hardware to replace the current computer aided dispatch system. These actions were deemed critical, by the ESC, to improve reliability and interoperability among all emergency services in Oglethorpe County and surrounding areas.
In 2015 the ESC used Special Local Option Sales Tax funds to purchase limited amounts of equipment. Three thermal imagers were purchased and allocated through Oglethorpe County Rescue. The thermal imagers were provided to Crawford, Sandy Cross and Glade as noted in the April 2015 Association meeting summary posted online. [Also noted at that meeting was that ... a] breathing air compressor was also purchased in 2015 through Oglethorpe County Emergency Management with a grant from the Georgia Emergency Management for use by Fire Association members.
In light of these fiscal successes and with information provided in annual reports, which are posted online at www.oglethorpefirerescue.org [2014, 2015], the BOC in May 2016 endorsed the Fire Association to create a fiscal policy to provide structured accountability and continue capital improvements. It was mutually agreed by the BOC and myself that collective input from the Fire Association would provide a better mechanism for future funding modifications. It is important to remember, first, that nothing has yet changed - and cannot change without consensus from the Fire Association; second, that the BOC still holds ultimate authority for the distribution of tax funds.
I hope this clears up the issue and my intentions. A structured forum at the next Fire Association meeting will provide each member department the opportunity to speak, uninterrupted for two minutes, before the decision is made whether to move forward.
The Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office led a training exercise on Thursday, 26 May 2016 at the Oglethorpe County Primary School. Its purpose was to test parts of the Oglethorpe County School System Emergency Preparedness Safety Plan, according to Douglas Spencer, Director of the Oglethorpe County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). The EMA organizes at least one training event each year to test the ability of the many paid and volunteer staff of the county to respond to a variety of challenges at the individual, local, county and state levels.
This exercise focused on the interactions of the school staff and the Sheriff's Office. In a larger exercise or during a real incident of this type, a much larger response would be required, including traffic and crowd control, larger search teams, medical services for emergency responders and students, and extensive communications and protocols to unite students with their parents.
About 43 persons participated as part of the response of their county agencies, as formal observers for other agencies or as volunteer actors. Included were the Sheriff's Chief Deputy, the Superintendent of Schools with Central Office staff, school Principals and staff, school custodial staff, the Oglethorpe County Administrator, officers of the Emergency Management Agency and the Chief Ranger of the Georgia Forestry Commission. Also taking part in the exercise were members of the Oglethorpe County Volunteer Firefighters Association, the Oglethorpe County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), volunteer Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) and the volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). back to top
Exercise participants leave the Oglethorpe County Primary School after the end of the simulation.
12 MAY 2016 - WOLFSKIN TRAINING - DRAFTING WITHOUT A PRIMER PUMP
As part of its weekly training sessions, on the second Thursday of the month Wolfskin VFD holds training sessions that count towards the 24 hours of Professional Development now required to maintain Registration status for Registered Volunteer Firefighters.
On 12 May 2016, five firefighters practiced various drafting techniques with the Wolfskin Engine 4 and Tanker 4. The final setup had the vacuum tanker drafting from Lake Oglethorpe with its vacuum pump and delivering that water to a drop tank with a discharge hose from its fire pump. The engine then drafted from the drop tank while supplying two attack lines with water.
The steamer connection on Engine 4 is fitted with a one-way, self-regulating, intake valve called a Pre-con Automatic Inlet Valve. If there is some water in the tank, the fire pump can draw water up a hard suction drafting hose through the Pre-con Valve with both the Tank to Pump valve open and the Tank Fill valve open. The primer pump is not required to obtain a prime.
Closing the Tank to Pump valve and with the Tank Fill valve still open or closed, the fire pump moves water from the drop tank directly to discharge. With the tank at 50% fill and the Tank Fill valve open, the engine drafted and discharged for at least eight minutes, without change in tank level, before the excercise was terminated.
If the water source is compromised, opening the Tank to Pump valve provides an alternative water source to maintain the discharge. The system is very similar to an engine being fed by a pressurized water source (hydrant or another engine) through the 2 1/2 inch intake connection. back to top
Central 911 Dispatch and fire fighter radios have in the past both received and transmitted on the same single frequency. If the culture of Central was to always verbally repeat incoming transmissions (one of the three recognized steps in ensuring error-free verbal communication), a radio repeater would not be necessary. Sadly, that is not the case nor, from long experience, is it likely ever to be so. The objective of installing a radio repeater is to be able to hear fire fighter transmissions to Central 911 Dispatch.
The first radio repeater has been in place on the GA Forestry fire tower for about a month and many radios have been reprogrammed to use it. The radio was donated by the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department and it is state of the art. The present antenna for the radio repeater extends from about 65% to 85% of the height of the fire tower plus its cabin. That antenna was installed by the Association, not by the contractor, and was the heighest that could be safely accomplished by the volunteers who installed it.
The new programming of fire fighter radios changes only the transmission frequency of the radio's Channel 1, the Fire Dispatch Channel, to allow it to talk to the radio repeater. All radios, reprogammed or not, will still receive transmission from the radio repeater and Central 911 Fire Dispatch because both of these transmit using the original frequency of Channel 1.
The radio repeater is supposed to function as follows:
1) Radios transmit to the GA Forestry fire tower radio repeater on a new, unique frequency, the repeater frequency, on Channel 1.
2) The radio repeater receives on that frequency (no other radio receives that frequency).
3) The radio repeater boosts the signal and transmits it on the original Central 911 Fire Dispatch
frequency to Central and all fire fighter radios.
4) Central 911 receives the signal, as do all radios, reprogrammed or not, because all still receive
the original Fire Dispatch frequency on Channel 1.
Experience so far suggests that there are several areas in the county in which reprogrammed hand-held or apparatus radios do not reliably transmit to the fire tower repeater. The data are suspect in that the test radios were not recently tuned.
Ken Pirkle of Broadway Technologies, Inc., Pelser, South Carolina, our contractor, attended the regular monthly meeting on 03 May 2016. He had two alterative solutions to the apparent problem of poor reception by the fire tower radio repeater antenna:
1) Raise the present antenna several tens of feet to above the cabin on the fire tower. Ken dentified an
individual who he believed could do this for a modest fee, perhaps including any changes in the
mounting equipment to do so.
2) Install radio repeaters on other towers, as was originally intended.
Ken said that to do option 2 (multiple radio repeaters) would require either 1) Programing an additional channel for each repeater or 2) Construct a Voter Decision setup in which all radio repeaters communicate with each other via copper line, fiber optic line, or microwave link to decide which repeater would forward the transmission to Central and the county radios. Ken said that this would be complex, expensive and not certain to provide a reliable solution, but if successful would not require multiple channels to talk to Central, which channel to use being determined by the radio's location in the county.
A motion was approved, without dissent, to employ a professional to raise the antenna on the fire tower. It was understood that the function of the repeater would then be tested over the county with tuned radio or radios. back to top
02 MAY 2016 - PRESENTATION TO THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
Most of the members of the Association's Executive Committee attended the regular meeting of the Oglethorpe County Board of Commissioners on Monday, 02 May 2016. President Douglas Spencer gave the Board a summary of the Association's activities for 2015 and objectives for 2016 and beyond. The PowerPoint slides are available as a pdf file Here.
Chairman Billy Pitard reviewed the history of the funding formulas for the fire departments since about 2008. He proposed to the Board that the Association be given the responsibility of deciding how to distribute county funds to each department. This would require the Board approving a proposal by the Association, approved by its membership, on how to do do. No action was taken by the Board, but the informal response to Pitard's comments was positive. Ralph Maxwell, Editor of The Oglethorpe Echo, gave his summary of the meeting on the Opinion page of the 05 May 2016 edition of the paper. A transcription of that article can be found Here. back to top
[The following is transcribed from The Oglethorpe Echo, 05 May 2016]
Fire department funds
If the Oglethorpe Fire Association can come up with a suitable plan, it seems as if the County Commission may well let them have a major say in how some $160,000 in funds for volunteer fire departments in the county are used.
That possibility emerged on Monday night in the commission's May meeting after Fire Association President and County Emergency Management Agency Director Douglas Spencer gave the board an overview of 2015 and his goals and ambitions for 2016.
Spencer pointed out that the mission of the fire association was to provide professional level fire protection for Oglethorpe County.
He pointed out that the strategic plan for achieving this would require accountability from the county's individual fire departments for their training, equipment, and procedures.
Right now, one of the weak points of fire protection in the county, Spencer said, is that individual fire chiefs can ignore recommendations for best practices from the association. The association membership is strictly voluntary.
County Commission Chairman Billy Pittard gave those in attendance and the board somewhat of a history lesson.
He pointed out that before he was elected that each department in the county got $4,500.
Pittard and the commissioner's entertained the idea of a fire tax set by each individual district.
However, because of the time constraints of calling an election, holding the election in conjunction with one already scheduled, having it pass, putting it in the budget, and then implementing the change, he didn't feel it was practical.
Pittard said that he reasoned that since only a half-mill tax was going to be asked for in such a referendum, why not just go ahead and allot that money from the Insurance Premium Tax, which lists fire protection as one of its purposes.
The chairman said he challenged the group to come to agreement on coverage areas, for which they would be compensated. He noted that it took some time for the effort to come to fruition, but it did happen.
The amount of $160,000 was reached before the economic and real estate recession hit property values and the county digest a substantial lick.
Although property values went down, Pittard said the county opted to kee the $160,000 in funding to fire departments at that level, and not reducing to what a half-mill would have actually brought in.
Pittard noted that part of the deal in giving the departments more money was to get the county out of the insurance business.
The county was apparently paying for a good bit of the fire department's insured properties and "there were some things being insured that didn't even exist anymore."
As part of the re-assessment of funding of the fire departments, he said that the county required that each department present a budget and an accounting of how they spent the money.
The chairman said that some departments did not like that provision and indicated that they would not participate.
Pittard said that Spencer could take a lesson from that and be assured that if the association set high standards and raised the bar for departments engagement, participation and performance that he could expect some resistance from those that didn't want things to change.
However, he also suggested that there would be others that appreciated and embraced the move to better performance and the association would be better off.
Both Pittard and Spencer noted that the Insurance Services Organization (ISO) ratings had a very important impact on homeowner's fire insurance expenses in policies.
Spencer noted that there was a wide difference in the ISO ratings in the 14 departments in the county.
He pointed out that there were a number of fire hydrants in the areas covered by Sandy Cross and Wesley Chapel Fire Departments.
While not that many houses would necessarily be within the 1,000 feet of a hydrant that the ISO would like, Pittard suggested that all of Elbert County had a five rating because of their ability to shuttle water to the scene of a fire from other hydrants or dry hydrants that had access to lake or pond water.
Spencer said that if the county could provide consistent and reliable source of water to all fire departments, it would make a remarkable difference in the amount of insurance premiums for homeowners.
Of course, part of the funding mechanism, and distribution, would be to ensure accountability [by] the various departments to equip and train the proper number of volunteer firemen to meet the ISO standards for improving their rating.
While the ability to adjust fire coverage regions and to make other changes over time was left as the option in the original plan, Pittard said things had not changed and that he really thought that possibility had been forgotten about.
Pittard praised Spencer for his work with the Fire Association and the improvements that had been made because of his and the members effort.
He suggested that if the association members, by a majority vote when they had a quorum, at an official meeting could present to the board [a policy] which identified concrete rules and policies that departments had to follow to receive funds, then he thought that the Board would be agreeable to approving such a policy.
Comission member Andy Saxon asked Spencer if he was agreeable with what Pittard was suggesting. Spencer agree that he was.
The other commissioners also indicated that they thought Pittard's recommendation had a lot of merit.
Commission member George Gabriel said he thought that some of the smaller rural departments were the ones that needed more help, and that possibly five percent of some of the larger departments funds could be diverted to the smaller ones.
Pittard said he would be open to some kind of formula that gave added value to the number of calls a department answered, but that he wanted the cleaver ideas about how funds should be distributed to come from the association.
He said that he wanted the proposal to solve the funding mechanism problem for the county and the accountability problem for the association. back to top
09 APRIL 2016 - COUNTY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT - SCBA TRAINING
Douglas Spencer taught several county volunteer firefighters an 8-hr course on the use of Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) at the Fire Fighter/Rescue Training Center in Crawford. Douglas is the county EMA director, President of the Oglethorpe County Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, Chief of Vesta VFD and an Instructor II for state emergency service organizations.
SCBAs have high pressure air cylinders which allow firefighters to work for 20 to 40 minutes in super-heated and toxic-air environments during search and rescue and offensive interior fire suppression. They are not easy to use, they must be correctly maintained, and there are many different models used in the county that make it difficult to confidently use another department's SCBA on the fire ground even with prior cross training as provided by this course.
Students and their volunteer fire departments included Stacy Worley and Michael Nelms from Crawford, Kevin Worley from Devils Pond, Christopher Owensby from Lexington, Glenn Galau from Wolfskin, David Huff from Pleasant Hill, Dale Jett and Nicole Spencer from Vesta, and Cody Post and Danny Hicks from Beaverdam.
Students were also trained in filling SCBA air cylinders at the County EMA building. It houses an air compressor with an attached cascade system that can fill both 2,100 psi and 4,500 psi cylinders. It was purchased about a year ago with $8,000 in FEMA funds and $8,000 in county funds. The county investment will pay for itself in a few years as departments use it instead of paying large bills for air and rental of cylinders from third parties. back to top
02 APRIL 2016 - HONORING FORMER LEXINGTON VFD CHIEF JOHN HILL
John Hill died 31 March 2016. He was a veteran of the United States Army and was a chief of the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department. He was honored by the Lexington Fire Department who transported his flag-draped casket on its engine from the fire station to the site of the graveside service at the Clark Cemetery in Lexington.
Leading the Lexington engine were six apparatus from Lexington, Crawford, Beaverdam, Devils Pond and Wolfskin Volunteer Fire Departments. Many private vehicles followed at the end of the cortege. A large number of mourners were already at the site. back to top
Blake Beckhan from the Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office had a good news/bad news kind of presentation at the regular 01 March 2016 Association meeting.
So, the bad news first. If you (the fire department) do not report fire calls to the state, then the Chief of said fire department can face up to 5 years in jail and $1,000 a day in fines.
Good news - the state has paid for ImageTrend software to help make reporting easier.
The system is web based, so you will need to get online somewhere. Blake demonstrated a basic structure fire report in about 20 min. You can designate anyone you like to have access to the database to make the reports - one person can report for multiple departments. Although this law has been in place for a number of years; the state has allowed fire departments leniency; enforcement began 01 January 2016. So, you won't have to go back to previous years. (It would be a good idea though to complete 2015, especially if considering applying for a FEMA grant.)
Below is a link to a flyer that has details about ImageTrend and contains Blake's contact information. Click the image to save or view the pdf.
The best way to proceed is to email him and request a login and follow the instructions on the site for entering department details.
Blake Beckham, Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office
470 725 5722, bbeckham at fm.ga.gov
Other things of note from the meeting:
1) The association voted to reinstate Dues beginning in 2017 to cover the cost of equipment maintenance, equipment insurance and firefighter training. They will be $200 per member department paid at the March meeting. Payment of Dues will be a condition for voting as was done previously.
2) The equipment for the new fire repeater has been shipped. Any department that has not paid their $1,500 share should do so at the April 5th meeting or forfeit rights for using the new repeater.
3) Justin Sanders, Chief of Salem and Vice-president of the Association, displayed the remains of one of three medical oxygen cylinders that exploded during a recent structure fire.
-- Douglas Spencer back to top
A brief review of the Fire Repeater saga includes authorization during the January 2015 meeting for the purchse of three repeaters, locations not defined because permisions had not yet been obtained. Permissions to use water towers of Maxeys, Arnoldsville and either Lexington or Crawford (in Sandy Cross) were to be sought later that month.
For a substantial fee, request for three repeater licences was subsequently sought from the FCC. During the FCC review of the application, a mistake in an earlier licence application was discovered in the location of the transmission tower at the EMS/Training/Rescue Facility. This caused a substantial delay in processing the request of the three licences, but it was eventually granted.
It was then suggested to use the Fire Tower at the GA Forestry Station. Permission was granted and a computer prediction of coverage from that tower alone was produced by the contractor from wattage of the transmitter, the height of the prospective repeater on the Fire Tower and topo data of the area. It is reproduced below (click the image to view the full-scale image): the black outline being a crude approximation of the county boundaries; green being full coverage; yellow being marginal coverage; and white being no coverage.
The predicted coverage by this single repeater was said to be at least as good as that predicted by having the combination of three repeaters in Arnoldsville, Maxeys and Sandy Cross, for which permission had been granted. Documentation of this claim is not in hand. However, the frequencies granted by the FCC would interfere with the GA Forestry frequency already in use on the tower. Consequently, for another cost of somewhat less than one thousand dollars, a modification of the request to the FCC was made to obtain a frequency that could be used on the Fire Tower. This has been granted.
In summary, the Association has three licences and four authorized sites. Two of these sites, Arnoldsville and the Fire Tower, already had their own power paid for by their owners and there would be no monthly operating costs to the Association. The other two sites, Maxeys and Sandy Cross, would have monthly power costs. If any of the licences have not been used within one year of their granting by the FCC, they are lost. Finally, in any area of the county were the repeater(s) is/are ineffective, one can always switch back to the present Central 911 Fire frequency, the performance of which would not be affected by use of the repeater(s). That is, we will not lose our present capability with the use of the repeater(s).
A motion was proposed to pursue installation of a repeater at both the Fire Tower and at Arnoldsville. It was understood that both repeaters would be functional and that the Arnoldsville repeater by itself would probably not well serve the eastern and southern parts of the county but it would function as a partial backup of the Fire Tower repeater should it fail. A quorum was present and the motion passed without dissent. back to top
To continue as a registered Volunteer Firefighter (both Suppresive and Support), each year the firefighter will have to complete at least 24 hours of 'professional development'. To aid departments who do not now conduct that number of hours of such training, the Association plans to sponsor at least 30 hr of county-wide training that qualifies, and coordinate with other agencies to provide opportunities for additional hours. The intent is that any firefighter in the county will be able to complete the required 24 hours from a menu of departmental, county and extra-county courses. back to top