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'Saving lives above all else': Dawson firefighters begin training on new ladder truck
Dawson County officials say that the fire department's new ladder truck will give the department the ability to put out larger fires without having to rely on help from other counties. - photo by Erica Jones

From Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, emergency personnel from the Dawson County Fire Department officially began training on the county’s new ladder truck. 

Firefighters began the training with an hour of classroom instruction on safety protocols, then moved outside for hands-on instruction on the basics of the truck. According to Dawson County Fire Chief and EMA Director Danny Thompson, the weekend’s training is the first step toward equipping Dawson County personnel to operate the new equipment effectively. 

“This first phase of training is general working knowledge of the truck, and then the next phase of training is 12 individuals within the department have been identified as apparatus operators, so they will be the ones assigned to the unit across all three shifts,” Thompson said. "They have a more extensive training coming up with about 7 days of training and then a good bit of driver’s training on the road.” 

According to Battalion Chief Benjie Ensley, the truck will serve a dual purpose, adding its long ladder and large water capacity to the county’s firefighting arsenal. 

“Not only is it a ladder but it also has a 500-gallon tank and a 1500 gallon a minute pump where it also serves as an engine, so it’s dual function,” Ensley said. “It’s a very simple phrase, but they say ‘large fire, large water’ and that’s what that apparatus is able to do.”

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Ensley said that the biggest advantage of having a ladder truck in Dawson County is the independence it grants the department. With the ladder truck, the county will no longer be reliant on departments in surrounding areas in the event of a larger fire. 

“Our closest ladder truck before was in Forsyth County or Hall County, and if I’m not mistaken Forsyth kept theirs all the way down in downtown Cumming and another at McFarland,” Ensley said, “so you were looking at maybe 20 to 30 minutes before the truck could get here.”

According to Capt. Paul Cloud, that 30 minutes waiting for a ladder truck to arrive could potentially make all the difference in the event of a large fire. 

“That extra 30 minutes waiting to put big water on something lets the fire progress a lot faster,” Cloud said. “Especially if we get in a large-scale instance with a commercial type fire, we can get them under control a little quicker hopefully with having an aerial device instead of waiting.” 

Not only the truck’s ladder but also its ability to allow firefighters to get water higher in the air is important for allowing the fire department to do its job effectively, according to Thompson. 

“It provides us the ability to have an elevated master stream, to be able to flow water at those taller and higher heights and to be able to provide that protection needed in case we have those big fires — and I hope we never do,” Thompson said. “But there’s a lot of homes here in this county that are very large and present challenges for us, so it gives us the ability to effect a rescue in a multi-story apartment complex, in a multi-story commercial building and in a two- or three-story home.” 

For a county that seems to grow every day, Ensley said that it’s important for public safety to grow too. 

“With all the commercial growth that’s going on down here around the 400 corridor, the new apartments and things like that, now we have a piece of equipment that we will be able to use to potentially get a victim out if we have someone who’s trapped,” Ensley said. 

Firefighters will continue to train extensively on how to use the new truck and its equipment, and Thompson said that they hope to get the truck in service by early March. 

According to Thompson and Ensley, the new ladder truck is possible thanks to the citizens of Dawson County that voted for SPLOST VI and local officials who approved the project. 

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that piece of equipment shows you what one extra penny on sales tax can do and that we all have a part in that right there,” Ensley said. 

And in the end, Thompson said that the truck is a product of the whole community’s efforts.

“Our number one thing for the fire department is life safety — saving lives — it’s above all else,” Thompson said. “Now we have the tools needed to be more successful than we did in years past, and really all of this is because of SPLOST. We’re letting others help us grow our infrastructure, and that’s a good thing.”