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Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, fire and police officials in Gwinnett County, GA, recognized the increased potential for foreign and domestic terrorism and saw a need to share resources, knowledge, information and experience. In 2003, fire and police command staff began discussing ways in which the fire department’s hazardous materials team and the police department’s bomb unit could work together.
Today, Gwinnett County has one of the most comprehensive hazmat teams and hazardous devices units in the Southeast. It is the only response model comprising of fire and police in the Metro-Atlanta area and has become an example for other agencies. Through this collaboration, both teams have mitigated high-profile incidents, including drug seizures, accidental hazmat releases and potential and real explosive devices.
Gwinnett County is approximately 30 miles northeast of Atlanta and covers 437 square miles and a population of 837,873. It is the second-most-populated county in Georgia after Fulton, which borders Atlanta. One of the fastest-growing counties in the United States for the past 20 years, Gwinnett County was created in 1818 by the State Legislature from part of Jackson County and frontier land ceded to the state by the Creek Indians. The county was named for Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Gwinnett County firefighters protect the entire county except Loganville, which is partly in Walton County. Fire Chief Bill Meyers has 850 uniformed and civilian personnel under his command. The department responds with 30 engine companies, 10 truck companies, the Hazardous Materials Response Team, 23 medic units, bicycle medics, technical rescue and swiftwater rescue teams and two manpower squads. Firefighters operate out of 30 stations, with Station 31 under construction and due to be occupied in late 2013. Station 31 will protect Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville with an engine, truck, medic and shift commander.
Before a full-time, paid fire department existed in Gwinnett County, each county district had its own fire plan and protection. In 1967, seven lives were lost in the Norcross area of the county due to fires. This prompted county commissioners to offer districts a countywide fire protection plan. A countywide referendum was held in 1970, but failed by a 4-1 margin, supported only in the Pinckneyville District. Commissioners made another effort to consolidate fire protection by mandating that if one district wanted county fire protection, individual districts could vote it in. In 1970, the Pinckneyville District was the first area to vote in favor of county fire protection. On March 30, 1971, at 10:15 A.M., the Gwinnett County Fire Department responded to its first alarm. The new department had 10 firefighters and one engine and a budget of $89,000. Over the next 10 years, the department’s protection was so well received by Gwinnett citizens and businesses alike that other cities and districts voted to be included in the county coverage. Thirty years later, what is now the Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services is the largest fire service district in the state based on number of legal jurisdictions under one department.
Gwinnett County firefighters responded to 66,757 calls for assistance in 2012, including 4,845 fire calls and 50,028 medical calls. Firefighters work an average 54-hour work week with minimum staffing on engines and trucks of three personnel. The Gwinnett County Fire Academy provides recruit and in-service training with facilities that include a burn building, training tower, apparatus building, drafting pit, low-speed driving course and classrooms.