RINGGOLD, Ga. — Ringgold volunteer firefighters have no grounds to stop Catoosa County officials from creating a consolidated fire department, a Superior Court judge says.
Judge Ralph Hill ruled that volunteers had no discernible right to be granted an injunction blocking the county action, as requested in a lawsuit filed by their attorney, H.K. Sawyer.
The complaint also claims breach of contract and seeks to intervene in the a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the City of Fort Oglethorpe and Post Volunteer Fire and Rescue services. That lawsuit also alleges breach of contract by the county’s effort to cancel its arrangement with the city and Post for fire protection in parts of unincorporated Catoosa and claims the county’s plan violates state law by duplicating services.
“The judge said there are no similarities in the two,” county attorney Skip Patty said Thursday about the lawsuits. “The volunteers do not have a contract with the county and they do not have statutory grounds either, according to the judge.”
Judge Hill also gave the county 30 days from Oct. 17 to respond to the charges that the volunteers are, in effect, being forced from their volunteer jobs, by the county’s efforts to create a countywide fire department using paid firefighters and volunteers, too.
Catoosa County hired Chuck Nichols in May as chief to oversee development of the new fire department. Chief Nichols has said that the volunteers are welcome to apply for jobs, but he will not guarantee their positions.
“So far, no one has been denied anything,” Mr. Patty said. “We are not trying to control their right to be volunteer firefighters. We want to control who handles the equipment and the buildings.”
Mr. Sawyer has said the county officials are wasting taxpayer dollars by building a fire station in an area already served by Station No. 10. Commissioners on Tuesday approved a contract to purchase property and hire an architect to build a firehall off Lakeview Drive, in the disputed area that has been covered by Post and Fort Oglethorpe firefighters.
Commission Chairman Bill Clarke said the new fire station will supplement the services in the area.