JASPER, Ga. – “We’re old country people. We always work on a handshake and a person’s word is his bond.” These were the words of Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones when questioned about an outstanding issue of a water tank for what is known as the Wildcat Community.
A set area along the line of Dawson and Pickens Counties, the community stretches between and has shared in an Automatic Aid Agreement between the two. They are served by Dawson County Fire Station 8, a volunteer fire station that actually sits inside of Pickens County but is manned by Dawson.
A growing confusion from citizens is attempting to find a single point catalyst for tensions regarding the issue of the fire station, with some pointing to a missing extra water tank, and others pointing to a recent fire that destroyed a home on Burnt Mountain Ridge Road that was not responded to by that Fire Station.
Station 8 was constructed on Monument Road in 2008 by Pickens County in an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Dawson County.
The questions and concerns over the station have grown so much that the community held a town hall over the issue involving both Dawson and Pickens County Officials to ask questions. Those questions include why it took so long for Fire Station 8 to respond to the fire on Burnt Mountain Ridge Road, why was Fire Station 8 not dispatched promptly since it is only 2.5 miles from the fire? Later in the meeting, the community did also ask what became of the water tank the organizers say Dawson County promised to provide.
A question that Chairman Jones says isn’t an issue with him anymore because he knows where the issue stands now with Dawson. Jones did not comment on whether he believed the community still had an issue. Jones did also admit that he had no idea why Station 8 was not initially contacted in response to the recent fire.
He noted that as a Volunteer Fire Station, those at station 8 would not have directly engaged the fire, but would instead have been there to contain the fire, prevent it from spreading, ensured the safety of citizens in the vicinity, and preset the area so that when county firefighters did arrive, they could immediately engage the blaze with little setup work.
Additionally, Jones noted that having volunteers familiar with the community helps expedite firefighter response to a location as they can help direct and guide the approach on back roads the firefighters may not know.
Jones also stated that during the two-hour town hall meeting he was questioned, “The question was asked of me at the end of the meeting, would Pickens County consider taking the station over?” Jones says that he answered by saying that if the community wanted Pickens to do it, they would.
However, Jones contends that he had no intentions for the Fire Station saying that he has trusted Dawson County over the years and had good relations with them with previous commissions. He said he did not want to “throw them out,” referencing Dawson County.
“My main concern is the safety and well-being of the people of Pickens County,” said Jones. He insisted that he wanted to continue with an Intergovernmental Agreement and the established Automatic Aid Agreement.
He went on to state, “I am not telling anybody up there that they don’t need to deal with Dawson County. I have never said, nor will I say that. That’s up to them.”
Another symptom of this rising issue came from Dawson County taking issue with Station members attending training in Pickens County. A fact that Jones said he offers to all volunteer fire fighters in the County as it is a training they must stay up-to-date with.
Still, Jones made note that volunteers are still volunteers. Working with them on their schedule is a part of the package according to Jones who said, “You have to work with them as well as they work with you. It’s not a one-sided game.”
He went on to specify that he does not tell these volunteers to attend Pickens County training saying, “If the individuals up there want to come to Pickens County for training, they can come to Pickens County for training. If they have training going on in Dawson County, they can go to Dawson County for training. We’re not telling them where to go.”
Jones said the State provides guidelines to go by on how to handle fires, those guidelines will match across counties.
During the Pickens County Commissioner’s work session, Jones stated that the county has been approached to take over the station and later confirmed they would be moving forward with that request.
With the Intergovernmental Agreement set in 2008 and an Automatic Aid Agreement in 2009, the station has been up for almost ten years. Taking on new volunteers is not something Jones wants as they move forward with taking control of the fire station. Jones said he didn’t care where they trained or which county they are from, “if you want to be a volunteer, we will proceed forward.”
It is an issue that Dawson County does not agree with. December has seen 13 volunteer firefighters resign in the face of directive from Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services Director Danny Thompson to attend a mandatory training session.
FYN recently reported in a Dawson County Article, “Fire Station 8 volunteers a no-show at training submit their resignations:”
Thursday morning, Thompson summoned Lt. John Tarantini — who supervises Station 8 – to a meeting. “It was my intention to demote him back to support staff for failure to follow an order and insubordination,” Thompson said. “He declined to sign the paperwork and instead tendered his resignation.”
Tarantini also brought with him the resignation of the 12 other volunteers who work at Station 8, which Thompson accepted. That effectively closes the station for now. Station 6 on Hubbard Road in Big Canoe is the closest manned fire station to the Wildcat Community which lies in both Dawson and Pickens counties.
Additionally, Dawson County responded to their resignations and citizens concerns with a press release stating, ” In no way do the recent resignations of Station 8 volunteer support personnel members affect the ISO rating for this community, nor does it decrease the level of service provided.”
Jones has indicated during the County’s Work Session that the Board wants nothing to change between Pickens and Dawson counties moving forward. He said, “We still want to do an Automatic Aid Agreement, if they so desire. Our main goal is for the protection and cooperation of the Citizens in the community. Wildcat Community, as they call themselves, has got money and time invested in that station. Pickens County does, too. And Dawson County does, also.”
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal visited Fire House 1 in Gilmer County Thursday to officially sign House Bill 146 known as the “Firefigher’s Cancer Insurance Bill.”
Joined by several officials including Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch, author of the bill Micah Gravley, District 67 Representative, opened the ceremony by speaking about the two year effort to bring the bill to this point. Gravley related his interactions with two firefighters, Frank Martinez and Brian Scutter, who he said were the honor of the Bill as they fought for and spoke with legislators to get the bill passed, as well as the appropriateness to have the signing in Scutter’s home station in Gilmer County. Scutter was also mentioned by Speaker Ralston who said he had made a promise to Brian that he would give all that was in him to bring this day about. Turning to face Scutter, Ralston said, “I kept my promise.”
Governor Nathan Deal, who originally vetoed last year’s Bill 216 called the new House Bill 146 an “innovative and great solution to the situation.” Deal said the Bill provides relief for firefighters by providing a different method for compensation and money for treatment and care for firefighters who contract cancers during their work. Gravley thanked the Governor for his support of, as he called it, a “better bill.”
The sentiment was echoed by Speaker Ralston who said, “We have arrived at a better solution. By requiring a local government to provide insurance to our firefighters for certain types of cancer, the firefighter can skip the process of litigating a worker’s comp claim. This will allow the firefighter to focus on getting better and recovery rather than having to worry about legal bills and depositions and hearings.”
FYN caught up with Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal to ask them to elaborate on why the bill is better, comparative to last years Bill 216. The Speaker replied saying, “This uses a Health Insurance Model as opposed to a Workman’s Comp model which means instead of having to make a claim and perhaps go through a court type process to get benefits and income, Firefighters in this case will file a claim just like health insurance.”
Governor Deal also spoke on the insurance versus workman’s comp comparison saying it was an awkward and “adversarial way of deciding whether or not compensation is owed.” Deal went on to say the newer Bill is a much better solution “to provide insurance coverage that will define benefits and give some flexibility as to deciding the compensation that will be given to firefighters.”
More than Senators and Congressman came to see Deal sign the Bill, though. Several representatives from neighboring and local emergency services attended the event including Gilmer’s own Director of Public Safety Tony Pritchett who said the Bill “gives you a sense of protection… You can lay your head down and sleep better at night knowing that if you contract cancer because of the job, there’s some protection that will take care of you and your family.”
For more on the Signing of House Bill 146 watch the full ceremony below or find more Photos in our Album:
Raging fires have been spreading through dry land in the North Georgia Mountains for weeks. A few sprinkles of rain fell in the past few days but really didn’t make much of an impact.
The local community appreciates the firefighters and a local church in Chatsworth decided to show it on Thanksgiving Day! The First Baptist Church of Chatsworth fed over 400 out of town firefighters who didn’t make it home to be with their families. Locals from various areas including Blue Ridge brought food to the Church to assist in the program to feed the firefighters. Much of the food cooked in their homes and a local Ingles Market also took orders from those who wanted to donate a meal but didn’t have time to cook.
A local man told us, “It’s a small effort to say a big thank you to those firefighters protecting us and our homes.”
Firefighters have been working tirelessly for weeks to battle the wildfires and a home cooked meal of turkey was an extension of the gratitude felt by the folks in the North Georgia Mountains.
Rough Ridge Fire Update
A small wildfire discovered in the Cohutta Wilderness on October 16 has grown to 10 acres and is highly visible across Fannin, Gilmer and surrounding counties. The fire is not threatening any private lands or structures.
The Rough Ridge wildfire is located approximately 1.5 miles north of Three Forks trailhead on the east side of the Rough Ridge trail, and is at 3500 feet elevation on extremely steep slopes. The nearest private land is located 1.5 miles to the northeast. This wildfire is most active on the northwestern and southern flanks. Flame lengths are less than one foot and the rate of spread has been slow. Lightning is believed to have started the fire.
Because this wildfire is located within a congressionally designated Wilderness Area, it is managed differently than some other wildfires. Actions are limited to those that safely and effectively suppress the fire when needed to protect life and property and to meet other objectives.
“Natural processes, such as lightning caused fires, have helped shape the forest type you see today in the Cohutta Wilderness,” says Conasauga District Ranger Jeff Gardner.
Fire personnel are currently monitoring the Rough Ridge wildfire and using Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics to allow ecological and biological processes to progress naturally while reducing the long-term effects of the suppression actions. Fire management strategies are based on many factors, including risks to public and firefighter safety; condition of fuels; predicted weather; values to protect; and available firefighting assets. These strategies may change as conditions change.
This week, firefighters have suppressed five other small fires on the Conasauga Ranger District, all located outside Wilderness Areas. As warm, dry weather persists, fire danger remains High for this area. High winds today and tomorrow are contributing to the fire danger.
Current closures associated with the Rough Ridge wildfire include the entire length of Rough Ridge trail from East Cowpen trail to the Jacks River trail.
A campfire restriction issued on October 12, 2016, includes all of the Chattahoochee National Forest, including the Cohutta Wilderness. The restriction prohibits building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire outside of developed recreation areas. That means that only campfires built within metal fire rings in developed campsites are allowed. There are no developed campsites within Cohutta Wilderness.
To learn more about Georgia’s national forests, download the official free mobile app for your smartphone or tablet, or visit us on the web at www.fs.usda.gov/conf. You can also get the latest forest news by liking us on Facebook and following us on twitter @ChattOconeeNF.
The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests provide the finest outdoor recreation opportunities and natural resources in Georgia. Featuring nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities, these lands are rich in natural scenery, history and culture. The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.