Lee County explores better fire protection - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lee County explores better fire protection

October 3, 2007

Lee County --  On a daily basis, there are more fire vehicles than there are firefighters on duty to drive them.

A deadly fire last week brought to light the need for more firefighters, so now the Fire Chief is putting together several options for commissioner to consider.

 It was after last week's fire on Somerset Drive, where 12-year-old Tony Long died, that firefighters spoke up about needing more personnel. Since then the phone's been ringing.

"The citizens of this county are concerned, I think some of them were surprised. They weren't aware of the situation," said Lee County Fire Chief James Howell. 

Citizens, along with Chief Howell, are calling on commissioners to do something about improving staffing numbers, but that's not easily done.

"I think us getting some more firemen on duty, we'd be a lot better off and people want basic service, but it costs money for basic service," said Lee County Commission Chairman Morris Leverett. 

Money Lee County must try and find in their already strapped budget, because they didn't raise taxes, despite Commissioners Leverett's and Wally Roberts' urging.

"We don't know where the money's coming from, we're going to look at it, do some cutting here, some cutting there, hopefully we can hire at least one or two more firemen," said Leverett. 

Right now the Chief is working on several scenarios for commissioners, what adding one fire fighter or two per station will cost.

"There's the salary itself, the benefits, cost of uniform, additional safety equipment as far as bunker gear, training requirements that the state puts on us, my training budget's affected every time I put an additional position on my staff, even sleeping accommodations," said the chief.

But the County already can't build a new fire station in Smithville even though they have the land and the building paid for in sales tax money, because they can't pay for the manpower to staff the station.

Howell says his department also encourages volunteers to help with staffing issues. The department has a few, but getting volunteers to devote the time needed for training is difficult.

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