Possible Unemployment for Firefighters

October 11, 2005
Fire coverage may be a little more sparse for people in Appling. About 60 volunteer firefighters may lose jobs if North Columbia Fire and Rescue gets eliminated.

Some in the Columbia County government say fire coverage will be more efficient without North Columbia. Currently, they have contracts with four different departments. Harlem and Grovetown are incorporated cities, so this won’t really apply to them. Columbia County wants Martinez-Columbia to be the only county-run department.

Columbia County wants to provide 24-7 coverage across the county. The North Columbia Department does not have the resources, so they will likely be replaced. One North Columbia Firefighter says the new plan calls for three full-time firefighters from Martinez-Columbia to replace their sixty volunteer and three paid firefighters.

“We live in the neighborhood, we’re the next door neighbors down the road, and this isn’t fair,” the firefighter said.

That firefighter couldn’t show his face because he worries it may hurt his chances for finding a job in the future.

Monday night, Sergeant Brian Hood and the rest of the North Columbia Fire Department learned that Martinez-Columbia will add nineteen new jobs and will open two new stations. McDuffie County may also have some openings.

“We provide a certain level of protection, and whether that’s provided by…whether it be North Columbia, Martinez-Columbia or wherever, we’re here to protect the citizens,” Hood said.

The county has been looking to do this for about ten years, now it is Administrator Steve Szablewski’s project.

“The more entities you have, the more complicated it is to get mutual aid and service, and that’s the goal in the county is to get as few well-qualified services as possible,” Szablewski said.

Martinez-Columbia has an average response time of about four minutes for life-threatening emergencies, and five minutes for non-life-threatening emergencies. North Columbia also averages about five minutes.

The firefighter says it won’t stay this way.

“The county has put us in a position where people will lose their coverage they’ve been accustomed to,” the firefighter said.

The county administrator will make the recommendation to the Columbia County Commission later this month. North Columbia Fire and Rescue could be eliminated as early as January.


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