Expansion plan includes new stations and 43 new jobs
Bryce Ethridge, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
Jun. 6–VALDOSTA – Clyattville, Bemiss and North Lowndes are receiving new fire station locations across 2021-22, all to house new personnel.
Clyattville’s Station 2 is set to be built this September. The first recruit class will begin June 16, according to the county website.
It will be followed by Bemiss’ Station 5 construction in April 2022, and finally by North Lowndes’ Station 4 construction in July 2022.
This is part of a 2021 expansion led by Lowndes County Fire Chief Lloyd Green. His plan is to hire 36 firefighters that include sergeants, lieutenants and three battalion chiefs.
Station 2 will house Fire Engine 20, Station 4 will house Fire Engine 40 and Station 5 will house Fire Engine 50 alongside an EMS bay with an ambulance. Each station will have four personnel per its three shifts.
Administrative leadership will expand to include an assistant chief, a training chief and a second fire inspector/educator in the fire marshal’s office.
The expansion will create 43 new jobs, but will also decrease response times and provide for additional support to manage EMS calls.
Lowndes County Fire and Rescue, according to a statement, wants to meet the growing need for fire protection in the unincorporated area of the county as there has been an increase in residential development.
Alongside that, it meets the desires and expectations of Lowndes County residents, county officials stated.
In the county commissioners’ final session of 2019, a large number of residents called out the need for a fully staffed fire department.
A petition to fully staff the fire department was signed by 1,944 residents.
Steve Parker, a representative of the petition and chairman of the board of Stone Creek property owners, said then that the combination of part-time and volunteer firefighters did not suffice.
Volunteer firefighters have been utilized in Lowndes County since around 1975 when three stations were established at first with a fourth added later.
They’d receive more funding with the Lowndes County Commission providing resources and capital purchases over time, but ultimately, fire service as a whole would struggle to receive full funding until 2000.
The passage of House Bill 489 restricted funding of fire services in the unincorporated area to unincorporated revenue other than property taxes from the first Service Delivery Strategy agreement between the county and cities, according to the county website.
With Lowndes’ population having more than doubled since 1970, residential growth in the unincorporated area has called for a level of service appropriate to the size.
As this was the concern of the residents at the 2019 meeting, County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter reviewed the county’s plan of action for residents.
He told them the county would research the costs and needs going into expanding the fire department. They were to be presented at the February 2020 executive retreat.
The research presented then resulted in the upcoming expansion which will use a total of $7,003,917 from the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
It won’t be funded by the special services fund, the current funding mechanism, as it couldn’t support the expansion without adding a dedicated millage rate.
“Since 2008, fire protection for the unincorporated area has not been funded by property taxes,” the statement read. “This change was made as a part of the Service Delivery Strategy agreement between the county and the cities being that city residents already pay for fire protection via the cities’ millage rates.”
The expansion will be paid for with a dedicated fire millage dubbed “County Fire” on assessment notices for residents in the unincorporated area, the statement read.
The role of current volunteer firefighters won’t be overtaken by this expansion. The county considers them “some of the most experienced/trained personnel” in their ranks.
The county has even hired four volunteer firefighters for a full-time role at Station 2, Clyattville.
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