Originally updated: Jan. 4, 2019, 12:39 p.m.
The Dawson County Board of Commissioners on Thursday will hear a presentation of a new proposed intergovernmental agreement between Pickens and Dawson counties regarding the operation of Fire Station No. 8 off Monument Road in Dawson County.
If the new intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, is ratified by both entities, the station will come under the operation of Pickens County and no longer be operated by Dawson County, which has operated the station since it was constructed in 2009.
Originally, Pickens County acquired the land and built the station, providing insurance for the building and liquefied petroleum gas to heat the station. Dawson County then assumed operation of the station as a substation of Dawson County Emergency Services, providing fire apparatus, administrative support and electricity as well as obtaining necessary compliance certification from the Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council.
The original IGA also stated that Dawson County “shall provide training, equipment, and workers compensation insurance for a maximum of (10) volunteer firefighters to serve the station.”
It was that section of the IGA that sparked a disagreement between Dawson and Pickens late last year and spurred the separate boards of commissioners to work to create a new agreement. Twelve of the 13 volunteer support firefighters assigned to Station 8 resigned in December after they were told that opting to attend a Pickens training as opposed to a Dawson training would violate the agreement between the two counties.
Station 8 services the Wildcat Community, which was organized in 2006 with the goal of establishing emergency services for the more than 700 homes in the Burnt Mountain area. The community raised funds to help build the station as well as provide a fire engine that could more easily traverse the mountainous terrain.
The community was rattled when a home burned to the ground in November and, due to an oversight in the Dawson computer aided dispatch system, the station was not called to assist.
Dawson County Emergency Services Chief Danny Thompson later said that the station being called out would not have made a difference as to whether the home was saved or not, because the support volunteers assigned to Station 8 were not certified to put fires out but to lay hose and prepare for career personnel to arrive.
The support volunteers had in fact been putting out fires prior to the recent residential fire, which Thompson said he had been working to rectify since he came on board in May 2018 and discovered over the summer that the volunteers had worked to put out a car fire.
He had set up the training for those volunteers who wanted to become certified, and all but one later made it clear they would not be attending.
The new agreement seeks to remedy any confusion about who can train the station firefighters going forward- though it states Pickens will take over training, equipping and providing workers compensation insurance for accepted volunteers at the station, a new section reads that Pickens and Dawson may provide cross training from time to time if both parties agree.
Pickens County Commission Chairman Rob Jones said in December that it was not a problem to him if the volunteers were trained in Pickens or in Dawson, because everyone uses the same manual, and said that Pickens had trained a lot of Dawson firefighters in the past.
Dawson officials however remained firm that Pickens training Dawson employees would breach the terms of the IGA, and both Jones and Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond met on Dec. 12 to discuss the agreement moving forward.
Thurmond said Monday that he thinks the revised IGA will be beneficial to both counties.
“It does not matter to me whether you live in Dawson or Pickens, we need an agreement that allows both counties to work together and to protect those people to the best of our ability, and I think with this new IGA we will do that,” he said. “Take the politics and all the stuff out of it, let’s do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s protect the citizens.”
Other changes outlined in the draft IGA include Pickens now being responsible for obtaining compliance certification and for providing administrative support for Station 8, as well as continuing to provide insurance for the building and contents of the station.
Pickens will be responsible for paying the cost of telephone and internet for the station while Dawson pays for electricity and LP gas.
Dawson County will be transferring the title of the existing fire engine and tender and all contents of the station to Pickens, and Pickens will insure both the engine and tender. Dawson will also leave the existing hoses and equipment as well as the radio equipment to Pickens County.
The agreement will be renewed automatically each year unless 90 days (as opposed to the original 180 days) written notice of termination is provided or a written mutual understanding of both parties is provided.
Dawson and Pickens will also continue to utilize the station to provide automatic aid to adjoining areas in both countries in accord with the current Dawson/Pickens County Automatic Aid Agreement.
The draft will be presented to the Dawson County Board of Commissioners during the Jan. 10 work session, which begins at 4 p.m. in the second floor assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center. The board could vote during the Jan. 17 meeting to approve the new IGA.