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Volunteer firefighters say they've got the better deal for the county

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By Alice Du Pont

Gadsden County fire chiefs presented county commissioners a proposal Tuesday night outlining how their volunteer fire departments could give the county equal or better fire protection than is in place currently.

Greensboro Fire Chief Norman Scholer said the county's fire chiefs want a countywide fire service instead of staying with the Quincy Fire Department. Using a PowerPoint presentation, Scholer said Quincy's current agreement of 5-mile coverage from the Quincy station on Stewart Street, no dual response outside the 5-mile radius and insurance rates that are dependent on dual response is not in the best interest of the county.

Using the Gadsden County service, Schloer said, would mean dedicated countywide response and no time delays, and the county would have managerial and fiscal control.

"Right now, you don't have fiscal control. If there is a problem and Brian (Beasley) goes down there, we never hear anything about it," he said. Currently, according to Scholer, the city only has two firefighters for the entire county.

The proposal calls for the county to take the $435,000 currently paid to the city of Quincy for fire protection and fund the county's own fire department. The fire truck that the city now houses would be, if the proposal if accepted, relocated to the EMS offices on East Jefferson Street until the fire station can be built. Scholer said Quincy city officials think the fire truck belongs to them.

Supported by a dozen volunteer firefighters in the audience, Scholer said the modules in front of the jail would be the ideal place to build a county fire station.

Commissioner Doug Croley asked whether the services to homeowners in the county would be adversely affected using two firefighters for the entire county as first responders and backed up by volunteers. Scholer said it the current arrangement is not fair to outlying areas such as Greensboro and Sycamore, due to the 5-mile rule of thumb. The proposal did not address areas areas such as Gretna, St. John and Robertsville.

"This 5-mile radius is a serious problem. Before we even consider this we need to know how it will affect the insurance of people in the county. The second thing is we are faced with a lack of adequate water system and do we have people (volunteers) trained to deal with (hazardous materials)?" Croley asked.

Scholar said all of the county's volunteers are certified in hazardous materials and a certified instructor lives and works in the county.

Rainey Parramore, Wetumpka fire chief, said Quincy's firefighters have only a low level of hazardous materials training and if an incident should occur they would have to call Tallahassee for help.

"We had the perfect relationship with Quincy up until last April when all of a sudden Quincy quit responding. For the service you're getting from Quincy, you're paying too much money," Parramore said.

Holding up the current fire agreement, Croley said the county needs to hear Quincy's proposal because the current agreement is "inadequate."

"It makes me wonder if the $435,000 is about money or service," said Commissioner Gene Morgan.

A few weeks ago, the city of Quincy asked for a joint meeting withcommissions to discuss the fire agreement. But Commission Chairman Eugene Lamb was reluctant to meet before staff met to narrow down the items that that both bodies wanted to discuss. Quincy requested, through City Manager Jack McLean, that a meeting be held March 2. The meeting site suggested was in a conference room of one of hotels neat the I-10 exchange. The suggestion drew snickers from several fire service volunteers and county EMS employees.

"This is not the way to do business; to suggest meeting in hotels. I suggest we ask the staff to ask the city of Quincy, in writing, to have a representative at our next meeting to discuss the contract. Otherwise, they don't want to do business with us," Croley said.

But Commissioner Brenda Holt had a different view. She said the felt the board should meet with city officials.

"I don't think we should just cut it off. I don't think we ought to cut off meeting with them just because they suggested a place to meet," she said.

"The dealbreaker tonight was because of the location of the meeting. This is not good relations," Commissioner Sherrie Taylor said.

No date has been set for a joint meeting or even if one will be held.