July 03--KINGSLAND -- Camden County will close its fire stations on Gross Road in Kingsland and Harrietts Bluff Road in the North Kingsland area, most likely within a month.
Camden Fire Rescue Chief Mark Crews expressed confidence the closure of the two county stations will benefit everyone. Kingsland will be responsible for a slightly larger area that was covered by the county from the Gross Road station. The Kingsland station is located less than a half mile away.
County firefighters will move into the Kingsland station on Harrietts Bluff Road. They will be responsible for all fire protection west of Interstate 95, while the city will be the first responder to everything east of the interstate.
The station closures are the result of a functional consolidation agreement reached late last year where the cities and county agreed to be first responders if they were the closest to a fire.
The move could begin immediately, except it will have to wait until after the July 15 Camden County Commission meeting where a vote is expected on adding another EMS zone in the south end of the county, where the bulk of residents live.
"This affects everybody," St. Marys Fire Chief Robbie Horton said. "A fourth squad is needed. Who's name is on the side (of the ambulance), I don't care."
If the proposal to add another EMS zone is approved, it will mean hiring six employees and a vehicle. The cost of an ambulance will be paid through 1 percent sales tax revenue, said Jimmy Starline, chair of the Camden Commission.
If the new zone is approved, Crews said 911 dispatchers will be given a new protocol to follow so they know which station to contact as the first responder to a fire.
The three fire chiefs agreed the move toward functional consolidation has gone as good as anticipated. The shared training has helped firefighters from the different departments get to know each other and develop a bond.
Future plans include using shared buying power for bulk purchases.
"It has worked fantastically," Horton said. "They're talking and communicating. It's become what we want it to become."
Crews said he has worked hard to convince firefighters the agreement will improve fire protection throughout the county.
"The biggest challenge is changing mind sets," he said. "It's going to be a learning curve."
The consolidation committee, comprised of elected officials and fire chiefs from the three municipalities, agreed to allow the fire chiefs to move quickly after the July 15 commission meeting to close the two stations, move equipment and personnel and begin working together.
The committee will meet this fall to evaluate how the agreement is working and to discuss ways to strengthen the pact.
Both Starline and Kingsland City Councilman Alex Blount said they want to look at the pros and cons of full consolidation of fire protection in the county.
"This happened because we had the political will to do this," Blount said. "It will have to be painfully clear why we can't go any farther."
-- Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 464-7655.
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