Commissioners get reports on new fire stations, new 911 tax

Tue, 11/20/2007 - 5:20pm
By: Ben Nelms

It was a glimpse into what the future might hold to enhance public safety and reduce response times in emergencies. Fayette County commissioners got a look at those possibilities at the Nov. 19 retreat with county department heads.

Three issues addressed by Fire and Emergency Services Dept. Chief Tom Bartlett covered the department’s Human Resources Master Plan, technology issues and infrastructure. Human resources translates directly into staffing.

Fayette County mirrors many departments across the nation in staffing with what Bartlett called a novice workforce, firefighters with less than five years service. In Fayette, that amounts to 51 percent of the force.

Bartlett explained that, with the mass of training and other requirements needed to obtain a high degree of proficiency, firefighters go through phases that, by the fourth year, have them in a place of competency.

Bartlett explained the role of various staff, noting the specialization required for the positions. Those positions included fire apparatus operators, relief lieutenants, compliance officers and master paramedics.

Citing the desire to promote from within, Bartlett recommended that three needed master paramedic positions be acquired by upgrading existing staff.

In terms of technology, Bartlett recommended future consideration of traffic light pre-emption sensors to enhance safety during emergency responses. Sensors in each vehicle would have the capacity to change the traffic signal in the direction of the route taken by the emergency vehicle. Such a system would require participation by all agencies throughout the county and should be studied to determine its feasibility, Bartlett said.

“Our concern is response time and much of that is traffic-driven,” said interim Public Safety Director Allen McCullough. “So we need guidance from the board if that’s a direction you want us to move in.”

Other technology recommendations included acquiring “hot spot” locations, mobile data terminals and software upgrades for data systems and the weather warning system, the addition of field computers for each fire apparatus and GIS (Geographical Information System) mapping.

Bartlett also provided an update on infrastructure projects. Geotechnical surveys for the new Station 4 headquarters are underway, he said, and building and site plans are under development. Once completed, the facility will relocate Station 4 from Johnson Avenue and the headquarters facility from Stonewall Village, both near the central part of Fayetteville.

Land acquisition for the replacement for Station 3 in Tyrone was recommended for consideration in the 2009-2010 budget. Rebuilding on the present site is precluded by factors such as the septic system, maintenance and upkeep, parking considerations and the old-style upstairs sleeping arrangement. The station has been rebuilt four times already, Bartlett said.

Solutions for another older station, No. 2 on Ga. Highway 92 above New Hope Road, must also be addressed in the future, he said. Issues at No. 2 include bay space, living space and maintenance and upkeep.

Bartlett also talked about a future station, No. 9, at Sandy Creek Road and Ellison Road. Once opened around 2015, the station will decrease response time in the northwest portion of the county, said Bartlett.

Representing the county’s E-911 center, Director Cheryl Rogers presented objectives and challenges for the operation. Those objectives included overcoming the novice workforce, researching and implementing an Enhanced Emergency Management Medical Dispatch (EMD) Training Protocol and a program to generate revenue.

It is always a challenge to obtain appropriate candidates in a field known for high stress and significant turnover, Rogers said. Those challenges can be mitigated by utilizing enhanced testing and evaluation methods, by providing increasingly specialized training once hired, and by establishing a career development path within the operation, she said.

Specialized EMD training is an asset to the center’s operation, Rogers said, though that training is expensive and no longer supported by the state or offered through the Public Safety Training Center. Such training might be accomplished in-house at some point, though a financial commitment would be needed.

And to keep pace with changes in technology and provide enhanced emergency service capability, the county could move to Phase II wireless technology, enabling E-911 operators to track a cell phone within 300 yards, Rogers said.

The upgrade could be supported financially by increasing the supplemental tax on cell phone bills by 50 cents per subscriber, she said.

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