published Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Catoosa County: Fire suit burns out


by Beverly Carroll

Catoosa County officials have agreed to continue paying Fort Oglethorpe and Post Volunteer Fire and Rescue services for fire protection in the eastern part of the county outside the city limits.

The decision, entered in county Superior Court earlier this month, ended a months-long legal battle sparked when county officials tried to cancel the service contract in May to create a consolidated fire department.

“Basically they agreed to continue with the agreement we currently have,” Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart said Friday.

Superior Court Judge Brian M. House signed a consent order Jan. 7. City officials dropped their suit against the county for breach of contract and violation of state law banning duplication of services. The county will pay the city $175,000 and Post $217,000 annually.

Meanwhile, county officials say plans continue for a fire station in Fort Oglethorpe near Station 10, which serves the unincorporated area.

County commissioners in October approved $160,000 for a site off Lakeview Drive and hired an architect for $54,000 to design and build a 10,000-square-foot fire station.

Mr. Goulart said the county may want the city to staff and operate the new fire hall, if it is completed.

“But that’s a long way away,” he said.

Commission Chairman Keith Greene said the idea of a unified Fort Oglethorpe and county fire department is not so far-fetched.

“We would eventually like to see Fort Oglethorpe and Post join with the county,” Mr. Greene said “But we want them to do so of their own free accord.”

The new fire station is part of the county’s move from an all-volunteer department to a consolidated service using paid firefighters. Officials said the county is growing and cannot keep relying on an all-volunteer service.

The decision fired up controversy and swayed county elections. Former Chairman Bill Clark, who brought in the changes, lost to Mr. Greene. About half the longtime volunteers quit. Mr. Greene said the county will continue to consolidate services.

Fort Oglethorpe and Post have about 30 volunteer firefighters and nine paid staff, officials said.

Volunteers from Fire Hall No. 10 said they would be willing to work at the new fire station.

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