RINGGOLD, Ga. — The plan for Ringgold volunteer firefighters to intercede in a lawsuit against county officials by other firefighters volunteers was delayed Wednesday because the judge was not in court.
Catoosa County is not delaying, though, in evaluating a piece of property in Lakeview on which to build a county fire station to protect residences now covered by Fort Oglethorpe and Post Volunteer firefighters.
The duplication of fire protection service is claimed to be illegal and a breach of contract in a lawsuit Post and Fort Oglethorpe filed in May, and Superior Court Judge Ralph Hill issued a restraining order halting the county plan.
He ordered mediation and has approved two extensions.
H.K. Sawyer, lawyer for Ringgold’s volunteer firefighters, said Tuesday they want to join the complaint. He said county actions to hire paid fire crews and charter a new fire department is forcing out the veteran volunteers of the Catoosa County Fire & Rescue.
Mr. Sawyer said he planned to file papers with the court Wednesday, but he did not because Judge Hill was not in court.
He said his clients’ claim is similar to that of the volunteers represented by the May 15 lawsuit.
“We are asking that Catoosa County be ordered not to waste taxpayers’ money,” Mr. Sawyer said, “ ... buying more property and building new buildings when the ones we have are perfectly adequate and the volunteers are more than adequate to protect against fires, as they have for more than 50 years.”
He said Wednesday he will file the complaint at a later date, and that the action will ask the court to halt all county steps toward chartering a new fire department until the case is adjudicated.
Catoosa County attorney Skip Patty said he’s disappointed.
“We surely didn’t intend for that to happen,” Mr. Patty said. “The volunteers have provided valuable services to Catoosa County for years. We truly want them integrated into the county’s department.”
County commissioners last month voted to move ahead with establishing a new department, and approved a new compensation package for volunteers that includes training and pension funding.
But volunteers said it requires them to sign up as if they are starting anew, and Mr. Sawyer said most will not join the new department.
Fort Oglethorpe interim city manager Ron Goulart said both parties agreed Wednesday to continue with the status quo, and they tried to reach Judge Hill by phone to request another continuation through January.
“I feel comfortable, if parties are in agreement, that the judge is more likely than not to approve (the request),” Mr. Goulart said.
Mr. Patty said Wednesday that the county is evaluating a piece of Lakeview property for a fire station.
“Once we finish that, we think we will close on a tract that will be satisfactory,” he said.