Smithville citizens ready for change - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Smithville citizens ready for change

June 20, 2006

Lee County-- As one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, Lee County is still struggling to keep up with the growth. They recognize that their mostly volunteer fire department isn't enough anymore, so they're looking for ways to improve their coverage without putting the burden on taxpayers. Some federal money could soon put some full-time firefighters in place.  

Right now, Lee County has 36 firefighters half of them part-time, but they have 40 volunteers on staff. If they receive what's called a SAFER grant, more than 800-thousand dollars will help Lee County save 50 percent and put 6 full-time firefighters in one of the places that needs them the most.    

When you cross the tracks on Highway 19, you enter the quaint town of Smithville. "Small town USA, I love it," says Bobby Head. That's where you'll find Bobby Head.  In summer, he's by the pool. "Cleaning it out so I can go swimming," says Head.

And for him, this is home.  Like most people here, he wouldn't trade it for the world. "When I want big city, I can drive to Albany and come back," says Head.

Smithville citizens have everything they need from a place to pull up and pump gas to the one supermarket acros the street but when it comes to safety, there's one thing missing.

"We haven't had any problems much with fire up here thank goodness," says Head. Thank goodness because right now there's no fire department in Smithville.  There are volunteer firefighters in town and firetrucks are kept beside the library but when there's a fire emergency, responders come all the way from Leesburg. Now after years of hoping, a fire station will finally be built  at US 19 and Pettis Road.

"There's a lot of people excited about getting that service up there. It's going to change a lot of things and it's way past due," says Jackie Sizemore.

Jackie Sizemore says a grant will help place fire and EMS workers in Smithville 24/7 but people could see another added benefit. "It opens up a lot of doors for Smithville. One, it lowers the insurance for people," says Sizemore.

Overall, and most importantly, it increases safety.  Good news for this pool man. "I always liked safety better," says Head.

Knowing safety is right around the corner makes a dip in the pool and a small town home a little more enjoyable.

Chief Joe Pollock says more firefighters on staff wouldn't necessarily reduce the insurance rating in the county as a whole but it would help them move toward lower numbers. It will take about 6 to 8 months for the county to hear if they've been approved for the grant. It would pay for a percentage of firefighters salaries for four years. 

There's no timeframe yet when construction will begin on the new fire station but it should be soon.

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