November 1, 2005
Columbia County commissioners have voted unanimously to combine Columbia County’s fire departments. News 12 is on your side with how this may improve coverage where you live.
All of Columbia County will soon have round the clock coverage for the first time. The North Columbia Fire Department that serviced rural Columbia County will go away and the entire area, excluding the areas of Harlem and Grovetown, will be under the county department.
Commissioners say that the seventy percent of the county that falls into the rural area will be better off because they will have 24-7 coverage by staff stations.
It is the end of a long fight for North Columbia Fire and Rescue. Lieutenant Chris McCalister is a volunteer and after Tuesday night he will work for the McDuffie County department.
“We’re firemen and we want to continue doing that service,” McCalister said.
Martinez-Columbia Fire and Rescue will take over the old territory, including Appling, Winfield and Leah. Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker says they will also bump their number of stations from eight to ten.
“This just equalizes the services for the same service everybody’s paying,” Tucker said.
Chief Paul Cooper from Martinez-Columbia tells the commission he will hire twenty new paid firefighters. But there is no limit on the number of new volunteers he can bring on in addition to the seventy he already has. They just have to meet the minimum qualifications.
Chief Thomas McFarland from North Columbia says the meeting went just as he expected.
“They’re gonna work out the kinks and work out a plan that will help our side and their side,” McFarland said.
The volunteers that go to Martinez-Columbia will have ongoing training.
Lieutenant McCalister says the firefighters from North Columbia will be an excellent addition. The next step is to work out the transition. There is equipment and land from the old stations that need to be placed. The Columbia County government will meet about this next week.
They’ve approved it, but it will take a little while to implement. It will be official on January 1, 2006. This includes the consolidation and the end of pay-per-call in Harlem.