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Fire depts. work to decrease response times through automatic aid

This map shows the new areas that will be covered through an expansion of the automatic aid agreement between the Covington Fire Department and Newton County Fire Service. The blue area will now also be covered by the city and the red area by the county.

This map shows the new areas that will be covered through an expansion of the automatic aid agreement between the Covington Fire Department and Newton County Fire Service. The blue area will now also be covered by the city and the red area by the county.

COVINGTON -- An automatic aid agreement has been expanded between Covington and Newton County fire services, with the expectation of increasing safety and decreasing response time for citizens.

Under the agreement, Newton County Fire Station No. 1 will respond to the south side of Covington and Covington Fire Station No. 2 will respond into the county north of the city. The county and city will still respond in their respective jurisdictions as well, but this arrangement will help in situations where the county's fire station is closer to city residents and vice versa. The agreement applies to structure fires and accidents with injuries.

A previous agreement had Covington Fire Department responding to the Waterford Road area in the county, without any reciprocal help from Newton Fire Service, said Newton Fire Chief Mike Satterfield. The new arrangement is more reciprocal, he said.

"The intent of adding the new area is to provide a quicker response time to fires and other emergencies," he said. "This agreement allows both departments to better utilize their current resources while creating less need for additional resources in the future. We understand that additional resources in the future will be difficult, if not impossible, to acquire. The goal is for this agreement to be mutually beneficial to both the city and county residents. The land area being covered by the city is larger but is mostly open land with a smaller number of homes and population.The land area covered by the county is smaller but has more homes and (is) densely populated."

There are numerous instances where the agreement could be beneficial. For example, in the Flat Shoals Road area, where "You can actually see the city boundary from the fire station," Satterfield said.

Several weeks ago, Newton County Fire responded to a call in the city for a person not breathing while city units were dispatched to a structure fire, he said. With the addendum to the automatic aid agreement not yet approved, the battalion chief called Covington Fire to get permission to go on scene, and the county unit arrived in about two minutes. Currently, "We rely on battalion chiefs to use common sense if they believe (responding outside the jurisdiction) will make a huge difference," Satterfield said. But now, that response will be automatic in certain areas.

"A major lesson from the events of Sept. 11 was that emergency services had to work more closely with one another in order to better serve the citizens," said Covington Fire Chief John McNeil. "This automatic aid agreement between the city of Covington and Newton County fire services does just that. Beyond responding together, we will now begin to formally train together and build a greater working relationship between the two fire departments. All the citizens of Newton County will be better served by their fire service as a result of this agreement. It just makes good sense and is what the citizens rightfully expect from us."

The CAD system at the 911 Center is being updated to reflect the changes and once that process is complete, the fire departments will begin covering the new areas.