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Fire depts. developing automatic aid

COVINGTON - The Covington Fire Department and Newton County Fire Services are banding together to help make residents safer.

The departments are in the process of developing an automatic aid agreement that designates areas where, in an emergency, the closest fire department would respond, regardless of jurisdiction.

The Interstate 20 and Ga. Highway 142 corridors, along with Settlers Grove neighborhood along exit 93, have already been identified. The area is in the unincorporated county, but the city's fire station on Alcovy Road is only 1.5 miles away, versus 5 miles to the nearest full-time county station.

Commissioners approved the automatic aid agreement at their most recent board meeting and the Covington City Council is expected to take up the matter in September.

The county also intends to offer the same type of aid to the city once areas are designated.

"We are in negotiations and discussions involving that. We are very willing and accommodating to do whatever would help the city," said Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield. "Obviously, this is meant to be a reciprocating agreement where both governments receive aid."

Automatic aid is different from mutual aid. Under the terms of a mutual aid agreement, which the city and county also have, one department calls another if additional help is needed on a scene. With the new agreement, the city will be dispatched automatically when an emergency occurs in the designated area.

"It's the right thing to do," said Covington Fire Chief Don Floyd. "It's an accepted practice in the industry and recognized by the Insurance Service Office as a way to enhance our service.

"Once we get this in place, we'll look at areas where we would like to have some automatic aid from the county," he added.

The agreement should mean reduced response times and more efficient use of resources, with no cost or liability to the county, Satterfield said.

"This is a win-win. If you need help and you need a fire truck, you don't really care what color it is, you just want it to get there," he said. Covington firefighters drive white fire trucks, while Newton County's trucks are red.