Fire departments take first step

Members of Oglethorpe County’s 15 fire stations took a first step on Monday to what Emergency Medical Services Director Jason Lewis hopes will culminate in a plan for cooperation and standardization.

The firefighters met at the Courthouse in the first of three planned gatherings.

“Us working together is the only path forward,” Lewis said.

Oglethorpe County’s Fire Rescue service is composed of seven affiliated stations, five volunteer firefighter associations, two independent fire stations and a Georgia Forestry Commission station. Stations operate independently and there is no standardization of training or equipment across the board.

The past several years have been tumultuous for the county’s fire departments, which are staffed by volunteers. Four — Devil’s Pond, Vesta, Wesley Chapel and Pleasant Hill — came together to form the consolidated department, later named Oglethorpe County Fire Rescue.

In 2017, the Beaverdam, Glade and Sandy Cross departments joined, creating Oglethorpe County Fire and Rescue. Crawford joined OCFR in 2020 and Wolfskin joined in 2021.

Lewis said he hopes stations will send representatives to the next meeting on Nov. 21 to discuss what each of them need and how they can assist one another.

In Monday’s meeting, Lewis asked two members from each station to approach eight large pads of paper inscribed with subjects like “Finance” and “Equipment” to rank, with numbered stickers, their top priorities.

A pad of paper labeled “Vehicles/Apparatus” received the majority of top priority stickers, which came as no surprise to Lewis.

Fire engines in Oglethorpe County are aging and replacing them is expensive. During a discussion, stations agreed there’s a need for more money to purchase fire trucks.

In the past, stations raised money through fundraisers and raffles, but attendees said earnings from these events fall short of the $300,000 required to purchase a new fire truck.

Most stations, like Wolfskin, are operating with 30-40 year old vehicles, said Russell Rowe, a Wolfskin firefighter.

The National Fire Protection Association’s guidelines for fire trucks state that any trucks over 20 years old will see no value from upgrading, and after 25 years, should be retired.

Rowe said even if his station could afford a truck, they would have nowhere to store it since their current station barely fits the older, smaller model.

“We need a new horse and a new barn,” Rowe said.

Published by Emily G. Garcia

Enterprise Reporter at The Red & Black

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