DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. — In the rugged mountain terrain near the Dawson and Pickens county lines, the roads are steep, narrow and winding. Prior to 2009 it took first responders 30 minutes to reach emergencies. But thanks to a vision, strong fundraising effort, community dedication and the cooperation of elected officials and fire departments Dawson County Fire Station 8 opened and reduced response time to just eight minutes —a life-saving difference!
County resources were stretched thin back then, but residents of an isolated area known as the Wildcat community recognized the need for a fire station and they took it upon themselves to acquire the property, raise the funds to build it, equip it and train volunteer firefighters.
“We started to explore the idea with John Edwards and talked to Lanier Swafford and Billy Thurmond along with Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones,” said Clayton Preble, one of the originators of the idea. “I give them credit for recognizing how important this was.”
The first step was to find a location and since Dawson County already had a 45,000-gallon water tank on property leased from a landowner in Texas, that seemed to be the right spot. Preble contacted him and explained what they wanted to do.
“After about five minutes, I felt like I was talking to an old friend,” he said. “He thought it was a great idea and leased it to us for $1 a year. In exchange, we promised to keep the grass cut and provide security.”
Next came raising the $90,000 it would cost to build the fire station. Jones told them he could come up with about half that amount and the group set out to raise the rest through community donations. The key selling points, Preble said, were improved fire service and a lower Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating, which would in turn reduce insurance costs for homeowners.
“Raising money was the easiest part,” Preble said. “People really recognized the value of it and were willing to invest. They have already gotten their investment back since the ISO rating dropped from 9 to 5.”
Thurmond and Swafford said they could provide the equipment that would be needed.
From concept to build out took about three years. “So now we had the station and the equipment but no firefighters,” Preble said.
Wildcat is made up of several communities, including Tate, Sassafras Estates and Burnt Mountain. John Tarantini began canvassing the communities in search of volunteers and quickly identified 14 volunteer firefighters.
“They all went through a volunteer firefighter training conducted by Dawson County,” said Tarantini, who has also made sure volunteers stay current on their qualifications. “We’ve gone from being a volunteer firefighting support group to a medical first responder,” Tarantini said.
Since the station was completed, they have responded to about 140 calls with an average response time of 5-10 minutes, a major improvement.
Preble said it could not have been accomplished without the help of area residents, county commissioners like Rob Jones and Dawson County’s Mike Berg or Thurmond and Swafford and Pickens County EMA Director Bob Howard.
There are many rural communities like Wildcat in north Georgia without immediate access to emergency services. Fire Station 8 is just one example how a vision, community involvement and support from local officials can save lives.