RINGGOLD, Ga. — Discouraged by Catoosa County’s progress in creating a consolidated fire department, Ringgold volunteer firefighters have announced their decision to back away from suing the county.
“They realize that the county has hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight them in court, and they are, well by definition, they are volunteers who do not get paid,” said H.K. Sawyer, the Ringgold attorney who earlier this month announced he would file a complaint on behalf of the firefighters.
Meanwhile, county administrators are inspecting an undeveloped, two-acre site off Lakeview Drive. Commissioners likely will discuss it at Tuesday’s commission meeting as a possible site to build a fire station, county officials said.
County fire Chief Chuck Nichols earlier this month approved an application to the Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council to form a legally organized fire department.
Many longtime volunteer firefighters oppose the plan. Some have quit and more have declared they will not participate in the county’s new department, according to several volunteers.
Commissioners recently approved a recruitment and retention package, agreeing to fund training, provide employee benefits such as worker’s compensation and life insurance policies, and contribute to the state firefighters pension plan. Financial incentives for attending training, prompt responses and longevity awards also are included.
Under the current program, firefighters may earn $1,000 a year for attending 80 percent of the regular training schedule and spending two 12-hour night shifts at a fire station per year. The volunteer firefighters paid their own pension contributions of $15 per month under the previous arrangement.
Ringgold volunteer firefighters had planned to join with a lawsuit against Catoosa County filed in May 2008 by the city of Fort Oglethorpe and Post Volunteer Fire and Rescue services. The complaint charged the county with violating a state law against duplication of services by planning to build a fire station in an area already served by the city and Post volunteers.
Superior Court Judge Ralph Hill ordered Catoosa County to continue to pay the city and Post for their services while the two parties come to an agreement.
Some volunteers said they do not oppose the county’s plans. Growth and changes in lifestyles are driving the issue, according to Sgt. Shane O’Neal, a Post volunteer firefighter and supervisor at Station 10.
“Today, volunteers are few and far between,” Sgt. O’Neal said. “Ten years ago, everybody wanted to do it. But today, it’s a dangerous job and people have to work their other jobs to support their families.”
Sgt. O’Neal, who has worked as a volunteer for 10 years, said that there has been a time when he was the only person on the fire engine driving to a call.
“Funding is what is needed,” he said. “They need to pay people to staff a countywide fire department.”
Catoosa County Commissioner Dewayne Hill said county officials hope all groups will participate in developing the new comprehensive fire and rescue service.
“We’d love to have all the volunteers we can get, but we realize that people’s time with family and their regular jobs leaves them with a limited amount of time,” Commissioner Hill said. “So, we realize that the best thing to do is push forward with a consolidated fire department, and we want Fort Oglethorpe, as well as Post, involved. We think we can work through any problems.”