Dawson Co. to surrender control of Fire Station 8

News

David Headley

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County is expected to surrender operational control of Fire Station 8 off Monument Road to Pickens County this month, once a new intergovernmental agreement (IGA) is ratified by the two governments.

Under the current IGA, Dawson County has operated the station located in the remote Wildcat Community, parts of which are in both counties. But Dawson County came under heavy criticism from area residents who complained the county was slow to respond when a home on Burnt Mountain Road burned to the ground last November.

During a subsequent town hall meeting angry homeowners grilled Dawson County Manager David Headley and Fire and Emergency Services Chief Danny Thompson about why Fire Station 8 was not notified since they are the closest station to the fire.

Danny Thompson

Thompson blamed the oversight on the Dawson computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. But he explained that even if the station had been notified, the home could not have been saved because the support volunteers are not certified by the Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council to suppress fires. Without that certification their response is limited to laying hose and preparing for the arrival of certified firefighters.

Thompson, who was hired to replace Lanier Swafford in May, said he did not learn right away the support volunteers at Fire Station 8 had been putting out fires against state regulations and that he had been working to rectify the situation.

In December, he directed the volunteers to attend mandatory training provided by Dawson County so they could obtain certification. But 12 of the 13 volunteers refused to obey the order.

Lt. John Tarantini, who supervised Station 8, said he and his men preferred to attend training by Pickens County instead. Thompson said that was unacceptable and would violate the original IGA.

Thompson called Tarantini to his office in order to demote him to support staff but Tarantini resigned and all but one of the volunteers also resigned, leaving the station unmanned.

Since then, Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond and Pickens County Chairman Rob Jones along with Thompson and the Pickens County Fire Chief have been meeting to draft a new IGA.

Under the proposed new agreement, Pickens will take over operational control of the station and become responsible for training and equipping the volunteers and providing workers compensation insurance. Pickens also will continue to provide insurance for the building and contents of the station.

Dawson County will transfer title of the fire engine and other contents of the station to Pickens which will insure both the engine and tender. Existing hoses and equipment will remain at the station.

Both counties will continue to utilize the station to provide automatic aid to adjoining areas under the Dawson/Pickens County Automatic Aid Agreement.

Dawson County Board of Commissioners could ratify the agreement at the Jan. 17 meeting.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

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Fire Station 8 volunteers a no-show at training submit their resignations instead

News

Danny Thompson

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – As of Thursday (Dec. 6), Dawson County Fire Station 8 which serves the Wildcat Community is unmanned.

A tense situation came to a head on Tuesday when the 13 volunteer firefighters who work there refused a directive from Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services Director Danny Thompson to attend a mandatory training session.

Thursday morning, Thompson summoned Lt. John Tarantini — who supervises Station 8 – to a meeting. “It was my intention to demote him back to support staff for failure to follow an order and insubordination,” Thompson said. “He declined to sign the paperwork and instead tendered his resignation.”

Tarantini also brought with him the resignation of the 12 other volunteers who work at Station 8, which Thompson accepted. That effectively closes the station for now. Station 6 on Hubbard Road in Big Canoe is the closest manned fire station to the Wildcat Community which lies in both Dawson and Pickens counties.

County Manager David Headley warned Tarantini that failure to attend Tuesday’s training session could have serious consequences.

In an email sent Tuesday (Dec. 4) Headley wrote: “Chief Thompson has directed you and the volunteer staff to attend training (per his commitment to the citizens) conducted by Dawson County. Should you choose not to do so or direct the volunteer staff not to comply with the direction you have been provided, then I will move forward in making other arrangements.”

How long the station will remain closed is uncertain. In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Thompson said some volunteers had already called to ask if they could rescind their resignation. “I told them to get together and decide what they want to do as a group,” he said.

Fire Station 8 is operated under an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Pickens County that has been in effect since 2008. The IGA stipulates that Dawson County shall assume operation of the station and operate it as a substation of Dawson County Emergency Services. It also stipulates that Dawson County shall provide training, equipment and workers compensation insurance for the volunteer firefighters.

Under state law, volunteer firefighters are not allowed to engage in fire suppression activity (spraying water on the fire) until they receive their certification. The training Dawson County planned to provide would have helped them become certified.

“Be assured, that we will continue to keep our commitment to the citizens of Dawson County as we have always done,” Thompson said.

Tarantini was contacted for this article but declined to answer questions. However, in an email response, he wrote, “We are preparing an announcement to the communities concerning our decision to resign, why and what prompted that event, trust that I will copy you on that announcement.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wildcat Community residents hold townhall meeting to addresses fire protection concerns

News

DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. — Nearly 100 residents of the Wildcat Community — a group of several small housing developments located in an isolated, mountainous section on the Dawson/Pickens county line — gathered inside Fire Station 8 Saturday morning to ask questions about fire protection for the community.

Two weeks before the meeting, a home on Burnt Mountain Ridge Road was destroyed by fire and community residents, some of them angry, spent nearly two hours grilling Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services Director Danny Thompson and County Manager David Headley about fire protection for their community. County Commissioner Sharon Fausett, who represents the district, was also on hand as was Pickens County Commission Chairman Rob Jones.

The meeting was organized by Clayton Preble, president of the Wildcat Community, John Tarantini, a volunteer firefighter at Fire Station 8. The questions they wanted answers to were: Why did it take so long for Fire Station 8 to respond to the fire on Burnt Mountain Ridge Road, why was Fire Station 8 not dispatched promptly since it is only 2.5 miles from the fire and what  became of the water tank the organizers say Dawson County promised to provide.

Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services Director Danny Thompson responds to questions Saturday.

Thompson explained that due to a flaw in Dawson County’s aging computer aided dispatch system (CAD)  — which the county is in the process of replacing — the initial 9-1-1 call bypassed Fire Station 8 and went to stations 6, 4 and 1, the closest of which is located in nearby Big Canoe.

The initial call was received at 8:04 a.m. and, according to CAD data, the first firetruck on the scene arrived at 8:28 a.m.

Thompson pointed out that while Fire Station 8 did not receive the 9-1-1 Tarantini had monitored the call and was aware of the fire 2.5 miles away. He was free to self-report to the scene,” Thompson said. But he also noted that Fire Station 8 is manned by volunteers and is not authorized to engage in fire suppression activities. Their sole responsibility is to lay hose lines and prepare the scene for arriving certified firefighters. Therefore, he said, there is no chance they could have saved the home.

For 90 minutes, Thompson, who only joined the Dawson County Emergency Services in May 2018, patiently and fully answered every question.

Then came the question that Headley said was the real reason for the meeting. That question: What happened to the water tank Dawson County promised?”

There is a water tank located at Fire Station 8, but it holds only 45,000 gallons of water and once it is drained takes several days to refill.

In a slide presentation prepared by Preble, he asserts, “It was agreed that Dawson County would provide a tank and move it and Pickens County would construct the foundation. There was a firm agreement that each party would do their part.”

Preble further asserts that Pickens County has constructed a concrete slab as the foundation for the tank at a cost of approximately $20,000 and the Wildcat Community has reimbursed Pickens County about $12,500. Now, he said, the ball is in Dawson County’s court.

 

Headley said Dawson and Pickens County officials and representatives from Wildcat Community have engaged in informal discussions about an additional tank but he strongly disagrees there was ever a “firm agreement.” Any agreement, he points out, would have to be approved by the Dawson County Board of Commissioners and that has not happened.

Headley said when the talks began, a tank was located and former Emergency Services Director Lanier Swafford estimated moving the tank would cost approximately $10,000. Since then, however, county officials have learned the cost could be anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 if a contractor could be located. Headley said the county advertised invitations to bid (IFB) and no bids were received.

Headley said the whole purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to “ambush” Dawson County officials and pressure them into providing a water tank for the community. “We wanted to hold the meeting here at the Senior Center but they said no. We wanted to set the agenda but they said no.”

Headley said he understands the community’s concern and wants to but feels the cost has to be equally shared by all parties.

 

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fire Station 8: A Public/Private Partnership That Save Lives

News

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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