Residents angry & worried over uncertain fate of Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department
Nearly 50 years ago, the Fort Oglethorpe Fire Department was the largest volunteer fire department in the state of Georgia, with close to 200 volunteers and eight stations, according to their website.
Now, there's a chance the department may drastically change.
Words about the potential fate of the fire department were met with anger and worry at Monday night's public hearing at city council.
Some folks in the audience said they were scared for their loved ones who currently work out of those stations.
"I'm telling you if you give our fire service away, you will kill this town." A retired fire chief and a Fort Oglethorpe homeowner, this attendee said he believes if the county takes over protecting the city, the fire departments ISO rating could change and in turn, force fire and homeowners taxes up.
"... Then why not you guys pay me the difference out of your pockets that I gotta pay for my fire tax or my homeowners tax, could you do that? Would you put that in writing," said that attendee.
City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins explained when this agreement all began in the 1990's and when things changed in 2011.
"In this agreement, the intent was the county would continue to use the city of Fort Oglethorpe's fire service until the county could construct an additional fire station to provide protection services to those areas of unincorporated county that the city was providing services for," said Simpkins.
Until the county could construct a station, Simpkins said the county agreed to pay the city $175,000 a year to provide fire service to portions of unincorporated Catoosa County, primarily out of our Fire Station 8.
"Part of that agreement says that either party can terminate the agreement within 120 days written notice of termination." Simpkins said in August 2018, Catoosa County terminated that agreement and the city council requested another year of that funding because they weren't ready for that cut in revenue.
Catoosa county agreed, but come their 2019 budget, Simpkins said funding to Fort Oglethorpe was left out.
"So as a result of the county no longer requiring services from Station 8, and of the difficulty we have filling shifts with part time firefighters, the 2020 budget recommends closing Station 8 and hiring nine additional full time firefighters to operate Station number 1 on a 24/7 basis," said Simpkins.
While some couldn't put their thoughts into words, this attendee could. "I'm very upset that you wanna tell these guys that are sitting back there patiently waiting, that you want to give their fire department away. That's crazy. What's next, the police department? The whole city of Fort O?"
Simpkins said the 2020 budget for the fire department is over $1.6 million. However, she said the county offered the same service out of Station 1, for over $665,000.
Simpkins said that is not the final decision, but it is an idea they could work with.
The community won't know the fate of their department and that particular station until the final budget reading and vote on November 11th.
Depend on us to keep you updated as we learn more.