New chief restructuring fire department

COVINGTON -- After 60 days on the job, Covington Fire Chief John J. McNeil is restructuring the department and saving money in the process, along with expanding the automatic aid agreement with Newton County to provide better response times for citizens.

McNeil reported his intentions to the City Council members Monday night and won their approval.McNeil said he will reallocate those dollars saved to create a fire safety education position at a cost of $72,000, with $48,000 of that salary, to be in charge of the new fire safety house obtained by the department and to be in charge of community outreach. He also proposed upgrading three lieutenants to captain at Fire Station No. 1 to match the structure of Fire Station No. 2 at a cost of $12,000. McNeil said Station 1 does not have a proper command structure and is without a captain to serve as battalion chief when needed.

He also is restoring a firefighter's position lost in this year's budget, at a cost of $47,305, with $31,537 for salary.

"This makes the organization more efficient, less top heavy and serves the citizens better," he said.

That would still leave a savings of $72,663, and McNeil said he will use $50,000 of that to replace the department's 23-year-old self-contained breathing apparatus and air system.

A savings of $22,663 would remain for the budget year. That would increase to between $72,000 and $73,000 next year, as the breathing apparatus and air system would be a one-time purchase, he said.

McNeil also is working with Newton County Fire Services to expand the automatic aid agreement between the city and county. Under the proposal, Newton County Fire Station No. 1 would respond to the south side of Covington and Covington Fire Station No. 2 would respond into the county north of the city. The county and city would still respond in their respective jurisdictions, but the new arrangement would result in faster response times for citizens, he said.

The city will also respond along with Newton County to vehicle wrecks on I-20, eastbound from exit 93 to exit 98 and westbound from exit 90 to 88.

Also, McNeil was granted approval to seek bids for four utility vehicles. The first would be an alternative response vehicle for emergency medical calls out of Fire Station No. 1 and would be used in lieu of a fire truck. McNeil said 60 percent of all calls are EMS related and Station No. 1 responds to 80 percent of those. That would save wear and tear on a million dollar fire truck responding to medical calls, the chief said.

Bids will also be sought to replace a wrecked vehicle used by the deputy chief of operations and training. McNeil is also replacing a 2002 Dodge Durango with more than 100,000 miles assigned to the Fire Marshal's Office that is having mechanical problems and a 2004 Ford Explorer utilized by battalion chiefs with a new larger utility vehicle to provide more room for incident command operations. The new vehicles were included in this year's budget.