TO: Frank Parker, City Manager
This letter is in response to the article in the Statesboro Herald this morning regarding statements made by Bulloch County. These comments are false, malicious and concern us deeply. There are several points within the article we would like to address. The first of these points is the concerns over Statesboro Fire Department not having a water tanker for rural areas. The Statesboro Fire Department responds with two 1000 gallon engines to all fire within the city and the five mile fire district. The department also responds two additional 1000 gallon engines when needed by utilizing Statesboro Fire Department Volunteers and call-back personnel. Three of the fire apparatus found within the department’s fleet meets the definition of a tanker according to NFPA. The Statesboro Fire Department was considering purchasing a 3000 gallon tanker when the fire department administration changes took place about a year ago. Around that same time the department entered into an automatic aid agreement with Bulloch County Fire which addressed this concern so the department did not pursue it. The basis of this agreement was to utilize the strengths of each department to increase fire service delivery county-wide. One of the strengths that the county had was that they already had tankers and would respond to provide that additional water when needed. While this has been the case since the agreement went into place, we can tell you that the times the water Bulloch County brings to fires in the fire district that is being used for initial firefighting operations is rare. While this water is used for “mop-up” operations it has seldom been used for initial fire attacks.
Another statement within the article was that Bulloch County has some operational concerns. We are unaware of specific concerns other than the most recent compliant form the county regarding water supply. None of us have received notification of any type voicing concerns on how that Statesboro Fire Department was delivering services. In fact, we have had nothing but positive feedback from the County Fire Chief and numerous County Volunteer Firefighters on the way Statesboro Fire Department conducts fire suppression operations. The Statesboro Fire Department has worked tirelessly with Bulloch County fire to improve interoperability and communication on the fire ground. Statesboro Fire Administrators has had numerous meetings with the Bulloch County Fire Chief to discuss issues that needed to improve on both sides such as the Incident Command structure, communications and inter-departmental training. In none of these meetings was there mention of issues that needed to be addressed that were not. The City of Statesboro was also proactive in improving relations of the two government entities by forming a committee, which was initiated by Public Safety Director Wendell Turner, of representatives from the City and County fire and law enforcement personnel to plan and develop joint training facility on property located on HWY 301 North. The property is currently used as a training facility for law enforcement. The facility was intended to provide a more consistent and unified delivery of training and therefore a more unified and higher quality of service provided by Public Safety Divisions of both the City and County. Once the engineering was completed by the City we could not get a commitment from County Representatives to start finalizing plans and begin work at the site. The facility would have provided a mechanism to raise the quality of public protection for all citizens in Bulloch County by standardizing as many of the procedures and tactics used at emergency incidents as possible. It would have also provided a good working knowledge of procedures and tactics used by other departments that could not be standardized.
As for the claims that Bulloch County Fire Department is “beating” the Statesboro Fire Department to fire scenes in the City or five-mile fire district is absurd. While there may be occasions when a Bulloch County Volunteer may show up on scene it has always been in their personal vehicle. We cannot recall a single incident when Bulloch County Fire Department has put a fire apparatus on scene in the City or five-mile fire district before Statesboro Fire Department. In fact, there have been occasions when Statesboro Fire Department has been first on scene and extinguished a fire outside the five-mile district. This is because Statesboro Fire has been able to respond to these incidents immediately with professional, highly trained career personnel without having to rely on a volunteer firefighter response as Bulloch County currently does. It should be noted that this is the main strength the Statesboro Fire Department brought to the table in regards to the automatic aid agreement. Yet, neither the Statesboro Fire Department nor the City has requested additional funding for this service unlike the County has for their part of the agreement. The City’s costs far outweigh the cost the County incurs. Where the County pays their volunteer firefighters $10 per call and whatever fuel is used to respond apparatus, the City pays hourly wages to the on-duty personnel responding, overtime to backfill stations when we respond into the county to assist, and fuel cost.
The residents that live within the five-mile fire district currently receive fire services from the Statesboro Fire Department. Our firefighters are state certified firefighters and are required to hold national fire certification. Our firefighters also are required to obtain 24 hours of continuing education each year and demonstrate competency in core firefighting skills annually. This is the state minimum. The Statesboro Fire Department goes above and beyond these requirements to ensure that citizens we serve are receiving the best fire protection service possible. This is not the case with volunteer firefighters. The only state requirement is that they complete a registered volunteer firefighter course successfully. There is no continuing education or yearly testing requirements. The citizens of the district are currently receiving a professional, career fire department staffed with 9 fulltime personnel on duty 24hrs a day 7 days week 365 days a year with an ISO rating of a Class 3/9. They also receive all the resources provided by the Statesboro Fire Department including but not limited to call back of off duty personnel, Volunteer personnel, CAFÉ Unit, 6 engines and 2 aerial apparatus which 3 of them, as stated before, meet all the requirements established by NFPA for a tanker. Claims made by the Bulloch County Fire Chief that they would be able to provide the same level of protection utilizing mostly volunteer firefighters is debatable. Residents in this district also pay 1.8 mills for this increased fire protection. This money is used for operational purposes and not Capital Improvements as the County as claimed. Those types of projects are funded through the City’s Capital Improvement Plan and SPLOST dollars.
Another statements made by the county was regarding the ISO rating for the residents of the fire district and does not represent all of the facts. According to an ISO representative, the citizens in the district receive the rating of the responsible fire department. With the agreement in place the citizens receive the rating assigned to the Statesboro Fire Department which is class 3/9. Without the agreement in place, Bulloch County becomes the responsible fire department which is a class 5/9 as of May 1st 2010. This means that if a citizen of the district is within 5 road miles of the responsible fire department and is within 1000ft of a water source they should receive a class 3 for protection if protected by Statesboro Fire Department and a class 5 if protected by Bulloch County Fire Department. If they do not meet the criteria to receive the lower rating the rate will remain at a class 9. According to the ISO representative, the change will take effect immediately upon the change of the responsible fire department, but will take approximately 4 months for all the notification of insurance companies to take place. Once the change takes place, according to local insurance companies questioned, the change from a class 3 to a class 5 will increase insurance premium on a one hundred thousand dollar home by approximately 17% (estimated $116 increase based on a $100,000 home). The citizens that were not within 5 road miles of the Bulloch County station would go from a class 3 to a class 9 which would increase their insurance premium on the same value home by approximately 90% (estimated $655 increase based on $100,000 home). For the change in responsible fire department to not have an effect on the citizens, it would require Bulloch County to provide all resources and receive an evaluation from ISO which we have never seen accomplished in the time frame given. To continue to charge the citizens of the five-mile fire district the same tax amount and then provide them a lesser fire service (from career to mostly volunteer) and a lesser ISO rating (Class 3/9 to a Class 5/9 or greater) is unjust to say the least.
The fact of the matter is that the Statesboro Fire Department has and will continue to make improvements that allow for better fire protection for all that we serve regardless of city or county resident status. The department has received authorization to purchase a 3000 gallon tanker for water supply in rural areas of the district if Bulloch County Fire is unwilling or unable to provide that as agreed to in the automatic aid agreement. We are planning on three new fire stations, funded out of SPLOST, to better disperse fire protection throughout the district. The City is currently in negotiations to acquire the land for the station on the east side of town and we project the completion of this project to be in December of 2011. We are also planning on a station on the west side of town as well as the north side in which land has already been donated. The department has also made numerous adjustments to operations to better serve the community. We have done this by acquiring an additional 1000 gallon engine that includes an intergraded cascade system (breathing air refill station). We have also upgraded radio systems with a $53,000 grant which provides our firefighters with better communication abilities on the fire ground. We are currently upgrading Personal Protective Gear worn by our firefighters which include turn-out gear and SCBAs which allow them to be more effective. In addition, the City is working toward adding personnel in the form of full-time, part-time, volunteers and cross-trained police officers. All of these improvements will have a positive impact on our next ISO evaluation and should have a significant bearing on our Public Protection Class Rating.
We are extremely disappointed in the manner in which Bulloch County has decided to handle this matter. It seems to us that they have lost sight of what is important, which is the best possible fire protection at the lowest possible cost for their citizens regardless of imaginary lines. We believe that our actions have shown the intent of the Statesboro Fire Department. The automatic aid agreement with Bulloch County was a great start to the goals of better fire protection. Unfortunately, Bulloch County has decided to use this agreement against the City in an attempt to reclaim funds by claiming they do more. The agreement required sacrifices on both sides to accomplish better fire services. Statesboro Fire Department willing accepted this responsibility because it is what is right for the community. In our opinion if Bulloch County truly had fire protection as their motivation they would not resort to outlandish allegations and claims which have no foundation but instead look at real options to accomplish the goals. Bulloch County have numerous issues, such as response of volunteers, that need to be addressed in the county and should concentrate their efforts there instead of on residents that already receive the highest level of fire protection offered in Bulloch County. We have made whole-hearted attempts to work with the county and their fire department to improve the protection of life and property for all of Bulloch County.