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Emergency Services strained
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Dawson Countys fire and emergency medical teams are being strained by an increase in call volume and a stagnant, local officials said.

We have the same number of people we had back when the budget crisis hit, Emergency Services Chief Billy Thurmond said. It does tax the system and leaves us vulnerable from time to time when all med units are out.

The county has three ambulances and a fourth that can be put on the street if needed. Thurmond said that when all med units are on calls, and another call comes in, Dawson contacts nearby counties for help.

Since January, the teams have called for help 90 times for assistance with structure fires as well as med calls, he said.

That doesnt mean they come and assist every time, but it does mean they were put on standby for us.

The increase in the departments call volume is attributed to high daytime populations, an increase in traffic and car wrecks, population growth in the county, and the opening of two urgent care centers.

Weve made 69 transports (to hospitals) out of those two (centers) sinceJan. 1, he said, and we havent gotten any increase in personnel.

Like the Dawson County Sheriffs Office, Thurmonds office is seeing firefighters and emergency personnel leaving for higher-paying jobs in nearby counties.

In the past 12 months, weve had six full-time and six part-time employees leave for higher-paying jobs, Thurmond said. I hope the salary study the county is doing will make a difference in the turnover ratio. Its been six years since anyone has had a pay increase.

Results of the survey are expected to be released in the next few weeks.

In Dawson County, on average, a firefighter/EMT makes $37,000, while a paramedic/firefighter makes about $40,000, which includes overtime hours.

Counties surrounding Dawson, such as Forsyth and Hall, sometimes pay firefighters more.

When we see people leave, that affects morale, Thurmond said. And even though I can replace those people, I cant replace that experience. It hurts us.

Currently, the fire department has 41 full-time employees and 25 part-timers.

All firefighters are cross-trained as EMTs or paramedics.

Sometimes well have to take a firefighter off the truck and put them in an ambulance, so we can catch that call, Thurmond added. We shuffle people all day to try to meet the demand we have.

The Insurance Service Office (ISO) later this year will reevaluate the services provided by Dawson County Emergency Services. Consumers insurance premiums are tied to how quickly the department responds.

The lower the number, the better insurance rates you get as a homeowner, Thurmond said. A class 10 is no fire coverage.

Dawson County is currently rated a five out of 10, and the City of Dawsonville is a three out of 10.

The county has proposed spending more than 17 percent of SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) revenues on public safety, provided voters are in favor, and if negotiations go well with the city. If approved, that amount may be more than $7 million.