Be it planned emergency services upgrades or a 13-percent uptick in local calls to 911, growth has marked the work of Dawson County’s first responders over the past year.
Recently-released statistics from Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services show that personnel from both sectors responded to a total of 4,640 calls in 2021.
EMS took the largest proportion at 3,506 calls, with 3,190 of those calls being for medical emergencies. Motor vehicle accidents accounted for 295 EMS calls.
Other calls encompassed 570 calls, while 447 responses were for service calls. Firefighters responded to 117 calls for fires last year.
Put another way, Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson said that fires increased by 28 percent, while medical calls increased by 17 percent. The bulk of responses are for medical calls, he said.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, first responders have helped establish testing and vaccine sites across the county, something Thompson said hadn’t really been done in past years.
“We’ve planned for it; we’ve trained for it…but we never actually have had to execute it until now,” he said.
Thompson also discussed the population growth that becomes evident when one drives along arterial roads like Ga. 400, Ga. 53 or Ga. 136.
“Anytime you have growth, you have more vehicle traffic on your road system and more vehicle accidents. And that growth isn’t just here in Dawsonville,” he said. “A lot of those are connecting roads from other counties that are also experiencing growth, so you have what I call pass-through traffic.”
Thompson also chronicled the fire department’s accomplishments in 2021, such as the new Fire Station 8 on Sweetwater-Juno Road, the new ladder fire truck for Station 2 or turn-out gear and air packs.
He called Station 8’s establishment in March 2021 “huge for that area and citizens,” given that the area was previously under-covered.
He described the location’s first call as a structure fire during its inaugural day. Because the firefighters were closer in proximity to the blaze, their response time was notably reduced.
Thompson added that the ladder truck helps given the apartment growth along the Ga. 400 corridor. He compared large-box grocery stores to high-rise apartments that are 10-15 stories tall.
“Those large commercial buildings like that present a lot of challenges for your fire departments…now we have the tools to be more successful,” he said.
He also anticipates the construction and completion of the E-911 and emergency operations centers that were approved under passage of SPLOST VII. Those two projects and the radio communications upgrade represent $8.5 million in high-priority expenses.
“I know there are areas of this county that we can just not transmit,” Thompson said. “When those units get in those dead zones, you can’t call them on cell phone or radio, so it’s somewhat of a safety issue.”
“When I look at things of that nature, I say, ‘Let’s make it sustainable for 20-25 years from now,’” he said. “And then when we build fire stations, [we do] the same thing.”
With the number of candidates they’ve had over the past month or so, Chief Thompson hopes that all 12 vacancies in the fire department will be filled within the next month.
Along with water access, lack of firefighters on scene can affect the department’s insurance services rating, which is also important for business and homeowners. Fortunately, Thompson said that he thinks they’ll see the new faces sooner rather than later because of the commitment from the Board of Commissioners.
“The commissioners have invested in public safety…and they’ve made the salaries competitive,” he said. “That’s key because the market is so hot for law enforcement and your fire and EMS personnel.”
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