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Fire department eyes expanded coverage area

Brookhaven Fire Chief Paul Cartwright expects to be able tohandle an enlarged department coverage area due to annexation, buthe acknowledged a need for county volunteer fire department helpduring the transition.

Fire and police protection are among the immediate benefitsnewly-annexed residents can expect following an expansion. A judgelast week approved an annexation that will more than double thecity’s size.

Consultants are working on a legal description of the approvedarea and hope to file a formal court order soon, said City AttorneyJoe Fernald. The annexation will take effect 30 days after theorder is entered, if there is no appeal.

Cartwright said his department is awaiting word on theannexation and would be making preparations for covering the largerarea.

“It’s a lot of things that are going to have to take place,”Cartwright said.

Among those, Cartwright said new city borders will have to beidentified and firefighters will have to learn the new areas. Onebenefit, the chief cited, was that firefighters “have stomped theground before” in the targeted annexation area.

“They’re familiar with a lot of it,” Cartwright said. “Foryears, we’ve run into the county for extrications and emergencyruns.”

One change, though, is that the fire department will have torespond to fire calls in the newly-annexed areas. Previously, whenthe area was part of the county, whether to respond or not was amatter of equipment availability and shift captain’sprerogative.

“(Now) it will be a policy. It won’t be a captain’s call,”Cartwright said.

In the past, Cartwright said his department and the county’svolunteer fire departments had backed each other up when needed. Helooked for that good relationship to continue following theannexation.

“I hope to be able to get with them and ask for their support,”Cartwright said.

For the enlarged area, one benefit the volunteer departmentshave is in the area of water capacity.

“They’re set up to carry more water,” Cartwright said. “We’regoing to have to be set up to carry more water.”

Cartwright said his trucks can now carry 1,000 gallons. He wouldlike to have capacity of 2,000 to 3,000 gallons.

John Hart, chief of the New Sight Volunteer Fire Department,said the county can get 4,000 gallons to an area quickly. He saidhe saw no reason why the city and county can’t continue to workwell together.

“We will work with the city any way they need,” Hart said.”They’re going to have a load to start with.”

Hart’s department is one of three volunteer departments thatwill see their coverage areas reduced due to the city annexation.Others are the Heuck’s Retreat and New Sight volunteer firedepartments.

In the event of a fire, Hart said city coverage will mean abetter response time for people in the annexed areas, particularlythose north of Highway 84. Residents can expect to see benefits oflower fire insurance premiums, he noted.

Hart acknowledged a loss of funding for volunteer firedepartments because of the annexation.

“We don’t know what it’s going to drop, but we know it’s goingto drop,” Hart said.

Specifically, Hog Chain, New Sight and Heuck’s Retreat would seea loss in the form of donations from homeowners. All eightvolunteer departments would be impacted due to less revenue from aproperty tax levy for their operations.

“That money is divided up. It’ll be countywide.” Hart said.

Cartwright praised the volunteer efforts and lamented the lossof revenue.

“They don’t get nearly what they should to support thedepartments they have,” Cartwright said.

Currently, the Brookhaven Fire Department has 35 firefightingpersonnel. Equipment includes four pumper trucks, according to aservices and facilities plan discussed during the trial.

Expected additional manpower and equipment are three newfirefighters, a tanker truck and two portable tanks in the firstyear following annexation. Cartwright also said he would be workingwith the water department as water services are provided to thenewly-annexed areas.

“My department is going to follow the five-year plan likeeverybody else,” Cartwright said, referring to the time allottedfor city to provide services to the new areas.

Cartwright discussed the possibility of a new fire station inthe future. He was looking at something on Highway 84 where thecity owns some land near the waste water treatment plant.

“Anything on 84, that location would be good,” Cartwrightsaid.

The chief touted the new Central Fire Station that was built in1995. He said it was well-located, with its proximity to Highway84, Interstate 55 and downtown Brookhaven.

“We were looking at having to cover a little more area if thereever was an annexation,” Cartwright said.

For a community to grow, Cartwright said it has to be able toexpand.

“We’re not the first town to annex, and we’re not going to bethe last,” Cartwright said. “We’re going to have some people withproblems, and we’re going to hear people complain, and we’re goingto work with them.”

Cartwright was confident that the newly-annexed areas wouldreceive the same level of services as those already in thecity.

“We’re going to run and do the very best with that area likewe’re trying to do with area we have now,” Cartwright said.