North Georgia fire departments grapple with money woes

North Georgia fire departments grapple with money woes

November 2nd, 2011 by By Rachel Bunn/Correspondent in News

Firefighter Jarod Sellers of the Gilmer County Fire Department washes a fire truck at the county's flagship fire station in Ellijay, Ga. Photo by correspondent Rachel Bunn

Firefighter Jarod Sellers of the Gilmer County Fire...

ELLIJAY, Ga. - "Bare bones" is how Gordon County Fire Department Chief Dave Hawkins describes his operation.

"We have enough money to function," he said. "We've got money to buy supplies -- it's bigger things, like hoses and trucks. It's not just us. It's the same all over."

Dewayne Bain, fire chief in Murray County, said his department faced budget cuts in 2010 and has cut back in many areas.

"Our daily stuff, where we did send somebody out to respond to hydrants -- we don't do that anymore," he said. "As far as office supplies go, we've just been trying to keep better track of everything."

Murray County's firefighters were furloughed in 2010 to help offset budget cuts, he said.

At least one neighboring North Georgia county has had more far-reaching cuts than Gordon and Murray. Between 2010 and 2011, four of the six fire stations serving Gilmer County have closed because of budget cuts, records show.

Though faced with budget reductions, fire department officials say they are maintaining their commitments to serving their local areas.

"That's our first priority, serving," Bain said. "We haven't had to cut back on our response."

Neither Gordon nor Murray County has laid off firefighters, though Hawkins said he had an open position he was unable to fill.

"We haven't had massive layoffs. We're holding our own," he said. "The department still runs smoothly, we just don't have the extra money."

Many fire departments have mutual aid agreements with neighboring cities and counties for emergency situations. The Gordon County fire department has partnered with the city of Calhoun and also Whitfield County in emergencies, Hawkins said.

"You can't do it by yourself," he said. "We have a great pool of people we can pull from if we need them."

Bain said being money conscious is not new or unusual for his fire department, though recent economic circumstances have made it much more important.

In Gordon County, the financial future is looking brighter. If residents renew the special purpose local option sales tax, the fire department will receive funding for the purchase of equipment, Hawkins said. Still, he said, he hopes the economy will turn around before more cuts are made.

"There's not a city or county around that doesn't wish that," he said.

Rachel Bunn is based in Ellijay. Contact her at rnbunn@gmail.com.

Follow the latest North Georgia news on Facebook