Police and fire depts. planning for annexation

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 12, 2007

With annexation having been approved and May 6 as the projecteddate for it to take effect, Brookhaven department heads are workingon plans to add staff it will take to provide the annexation arearesidents with the same quality service as those already inside thecity receive.

While other city departments have up to five years to meetannexation obligations, the burden of time falls especially on thepolice department and fire department, which must be able toservice the area within 10 days of the annexation date.

“We will hire additional personnel where they’re needed,” saidMayor Bob Massengill. “In time, all these needs will be met. Ourimmediate plan is to provide for the police department and firedepartment.”

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Police Chief Pap Henderson said there will, of course, be upsand downs to the city’s suddenly almost tripling in size, but theywill settle out as time passes.

“This will be something new for everyone,” said Henderson. “It’sgoing to be a joint effort, but we realize what we have to do andthis will be a good move for the city.”

Henderson said he will be meeting with Massengill today todiscuss additional personnel and equipment needed by the policedepartment. In the 2002 proposal set out by the police department,nine additional patrol officers were anticipated, as well as threenew patrol cars. One additional investigator and one additionalanimal control officer were also expected, as were vehicles foreach.

“I can assure the citizens of Brookhaven, though, that we willcontinue to protect them thoroughly and that all calls will begiven our utmost attention just as they are now,” saidHenderson.

Until additional officers can be added, a process Massengill andHenderson both say is under way, there’s a lot to be said forteamwork.

“Sheriff Steve Rushing graciously offered to help us whereneeded, and we certainly appreciate that. It will helptremendously,” said Henderson.

And just like the current citizens of Brookhaven, those in theannexed areas have full access to Henderson and his staff if theyhave concerns.

“It’s an honor to serve and work with these people,” saidHenderson. “I hope they all know me well enough to know about myopen door policy. They can definitely bring their concerns tome.”

Massengill asserted that it is an integral part of the life ofany city to continue to grow, and Henderson agreed.

“This will help our city and our county,” he said. “And it’s ourjob to change with the times.”

Brookhaven Fire Chief Bob Watts said the hiring process mighttake a little longer for the fire department. But at this point, hedoesn’t anticipate that as a problem for his current staff.

“It’s going to take a while to play out for us because we haveto work on the time frame of the (state fire) academy,” said Watts.”You have to pass the CPAT to even work for the department, thenyou have to pass the academy to get certified.”

Watts said firefighters who are not yet certified areeffectively doing on-the-job training until they attend theacademy.

Another concern is that the rating bureau may require additionalpersonnel on duty, but Watts said they would work with the city ona time frame if numbers need to be boosted.

Also, he anticipates calls to go up not only because of theincreased population, but because of differences in city and countyburning ordinances.

“I would think it would be a learning process for everyone,”said Watts. “They’ve been used to being able to go out in theirback yard and burn things, and that may be an issue. They weren’trestricted on that in the past.”

For the fire department, personnel may not be an issue at all,but dealing with the rural areas might pose other difficulties.

“We’ll need to work with the volunteer fire departments for awhile and get them to help all they can,” he said. “Manpower won’tbe so much an issue as water. We’ll need water.”

But like Henderson, Watts stressed that those in the annexationareas will be taken care of with the same quality the currentresidents of the town are.

“These people are just as entitled to our protection as thehouse next door to the fire station is,” he said. “The need forprotection in the annexation areas is just as great as anywhereelse, and we will be prepared to meet that need.”

Both Watts and Henderson will meet with the mayor this week, andboth will ride the new city limits, according to Massengill. Bothof the chiefs agree this is an important first step to the entireprocess.

“Our main concern is boundaries,” said Henderson. “Once we getthat established and we know where we need to be, the rest willfall into place.”