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SPLOST will fund new northern fire station

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

Editor's Note: This story is part of a multi-part series on projects that will be funded if SPLOST 2011 is approved by voters in the March 15 Special Election. The SPLOST is expected to generate $57.6 million over a six-year collection period.

COVINGTON -- Fire Chief Mike Satterfield is explaining the need for a new fire station in north Newton when the call comes in.

A two-story house on Gum Creek Road is engulfed in smoke and flames. A few minutes pass and the voice of a firefighter first on the scene comes over the radio: "We need more personnel to make entry." A few moments later, the voice comes on again: "I need personnel right away."

It's the perfect illustration of what Satterfield has been describing for the last 20 minutes. The two firemen who arrived on scene first had to wait for backup before they could enter the home. That can sometimes take up to 10 minutes.

"This is an example of the exact issues we face in that area of the county," Satterfield said.

The average response time for the area is 9 minutes, 22 seconds, nearly twice the five minutes the fire service prefers. That's why construction of a new fire station north of I-20 along the Ga. Highway 81 and 142 corridors is a SPLOST 2011 priority. If approved, $1.1 million in SPLOST revenues will be allocated for design and construction of Fire Station No. 8.

No land has yet been acquired for the project, Satterfield said. Currently, north Newton is served by Station 9 on Mt. Zion Road and Station 15 on Harris Springs Church Road, as well as Station 1 on Covington Bypass Road. Volunteer Station 8 on Ga. Highway 81 serves the area as well. The county does not own the volunteer station, but owns the trucks and equipment, which would be used at the new, full-time station, Satterfield said. Volunteers would also be able to make use of the station, he said.

Satterfield said with fewer and fewer people able to volunteer, it's important to have full-time coverage for the area.

"Our goal is to provide as good a response time to citizens as we can and provide the same insurance level and coverage area to all citizens," he said.

Three years ago, fire officials began surveying the county to determine which areas were not within 5 miles of a fire station, and the area north of I-20 was identified as a critical area. In 2010, 970 calls were generated there. Residents within 5 miles of a full-time station can see a significant decrease in their insurance premiums due to a drop in the ISO classification.

The area is also expected to be one of great growth and new infrastructure over the next few decades, as indicated by the county's 2050 plan.

"If that happens, this station will be even more important in the future," Satterfield said.

The Fire Service will have to hire new staff to man the station. Typically, three per shift are needed, for a total of nine, but the number hired would depend on the available budget, Satterfield said. Also, Newton County Fire Service is now providing fire service for the city of Oxford and the station will assist with that, he said.

SPLOST will also provide the Fire Service with $100,000 for self-contained breathing apparatus equipment, the masks and air tanks firefighters use when they enter buildings. The department will purchase 25 of the devices, which cost about $4,000 each.

Capital expenses such as that have historically been paid for out of the fire fund, but as the budget has decreased, "We've become more dependent on that fund for maintenance and operations," Satterfield said.