SUMTER COUNTY, GA (WALB) – If you live in a city such as Albany, you may take essential services like fire fighting for granted. But in rural areas in places such as Sumter County, there are plenty of rural areas. Going from one place to another can take a while. Take a house fire that breaks out near Lake Blackshear.
Harold "Skip" Starling, the Operations Manager for Sumter County Fire and Rescue said, "by the time that you got the call, loaded up your people and drove out there, 13 to 15 minutes would be realistic. But 13 to 15 minutes in a fire can be the devastation of a house."
The county used to rely on volunteer firefighters, But fire fighting equipment is expensive and the equipment that they were using had become outdated.
"Many of the stations were fighting fires with equipment that was really designed to put out forest fires," said Starling.
With rapid growth in the rural parts of the county, a different solution was needed.
Brent Williams, the Chairman of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners said, "the Board of Commissioners met in late September and decided to create the Sumter County Fire Department."
But with tight county budgets all over the state and nation, you would think that a big ticket item like a new fire department would be out of reach for most places. But Sumter County came up with a unique solution.
"The combination of buying good used equipment and using inmate fire fighters saved a tremendous amount of money," said Williams.
While fully staffing a normal fire station would cost about $500,000 per year, Sumter County will be doing it for a mere $125,000. And while county residents will probably have to pay an extra fee for the improved fire protection, commissioners feel that the costs will be made up.
Williams, the Commission Chairman said, "the savings in insurance alone, will more than outweigh any costs that they've been paying for fire protection fees to the county.">
And it wasn't just the budget numbers that were small, so was the time that it took to get the department up and running. All of the hiring, purchasing of equipment and establishing stations took a grand total of 68 days.
"People just moved forward and people worked very hard and worked very quickly," said Commissioner Williams.
Even though it's only been open since December 3rd, Sumter County Fire and Rescue has already responded to several calls, including one last night.
"And they were appreciative because they did such a good job," said Starling.
Now, all Sumter County residents can also feel better, knowing that these trucks are on the job.
SPLOST money was used to establish the county fire department and there are plans to open up more stations in the next few years.