Tuesday’s Lowndes County Board of Supervisor was not the first indication that it’s time to take a serious look at how the county meets the needs of its residents where fire protection is concerned.
At that meeting, Board President Harry Sanders promoted the idea of consolidating the county’s emergency services — including the fire department — under the authority of Columbus Fire Chief Ken Moore. It was a suggestion that was not well-received in some quarters, but it does serve to indicate that there is some dissatisfaction in maintaining the status quo.
For some time now, District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith has advocating that the county take fresh look at those services, pushing his fellow supervisors to develop a comprehensive plan to meet those challenges.
In some respects, we feel that the most obvious solution is the only solution that isn’t being openly discussed: The county is simply too large to be adequately served by a volunteer fire department.
While there is some doubt as to whether Sanders’ plan to consolidate services — which suggests that the primary solution is administrative — or whether it is a matter of building or refurbishing fire stations — a move Smith advocates — all that is required to grasp the need of a shift from a volunteer fire department to a full-time department is to look at a few numbers.
Those numbers are 3,193 (the current population of New Hope), 1,039 (population of Caledonia) and 36,072 (the county population, excluding Columbus)
The county’s population exceeds that of Columbus by more than 13,000, in fact.
With a population of 23,599, no one would suggest that the city of Columbus would be adequately served by a volunteer fire department, even though the city has access to water supplies that the county, by its nature, can never have.
How much more then, should a full-time fire department be considered an absolute necessity for the county with a far larger area and a significantly larger population.
Under these circumstances, it is not merely a matter of administration or of facilities. It is a matter of manpower.
In no way should the call for a full-time fire department be viewed as an indictment of the volunteer firefighters who are serving now. By all accounts, they have performed admirably. But in a large and growing area, the demand for services makes a volunteer department a less than idea solution.The biggest obstacle, most likely, is money. Without question, operating a fully-staffed fire department is a costly. Not to be cavalier about costs, but isn’t fire protection something that county residents pay for through their taxes? Indeed, county residents should have access to the same efficient, timely, effective fire protection that city residents enjoy. They are paying for just that.
The obvious solution is there.
It remains to be seen how long it will before the talk turns to it, as inevitably it must.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.