The Standard Journal

Polk seeks to add firefighte­rs

- Standard Journal Editor Kevin Myrick contribute­d to this report. By Diane Wagner

Several months ago, Polk County Fire Department put forth an initial plan for trying to implement the hiring of fulltime firefighte­rs with the help of grant money, and now it’s almost time to get the paperwork ready to submit.

But just because the county might try in the near future if the money becomes available to hire full time firefighte­rs, there’s still plenty of need for those willing to run into a burning home for free.

“As long as I’m here, we’ll never do away with volunteers. They’re a valuable asset. But we need to get a man in each station,” said Randy Lacey, who is both Polk County’s fire chief and emergency management agency director.

Lacey and his assistant Kattie Trammel are the only fulltime staffers at the two department­s. They have 128 volunteers and nine stations in the unincorpor­ated area, according to Trammel — and a number of interagenc­y agreements aimed at keeping residents’ ISO ratings as low as possible. The ratings are used to determine property insurance costs.

The cities of Rockmart and Cedartown have paid fire department­s with around- theclock coverage, as does Paulding County, which will respond to fires in a small part of Polk near the county line.

Polk and Rockmart also have an automatic aid agreement, which means a city unit will respond along with county volunteers if there’s a structure fire within five miles of Rockmart.

Unincorpor­ated property owners within five miles of Cedartown also may contract with that department for fire protection. Cedartown Public Infor ma tion Officer Aimee Madden said about 200 do so.

Lacey said most of the county’s volunteer firefighte­rs work paid jobs at other fire department­s, and others are getting older and starting to retire.

“Our response times were what hurt us ( with ISO ratings),” Lacey said. “If you live in the unincorpor­ated area and your house is on fire, Kattie and I are here from 9 to 5. If you call the fire department at 11 p. m., more than likely somebody’s going to respond, but I can’t guarantee how fast.”

In 2016, the Polk County Fire Department went out on 1,045 calls, which Lacey said included responding to storm damage in the county, structure fires and brush fires.

The average response time to get to all of those calls for the past year was 12 minutes, Lacey reported.

With more staff to draw from, however, he said it would be a start on a 20-year plan toward a fully-paid department. Having paid staff at each station would ensure that firefighte­rs could get to a blaze or wreck faster than they currently can without always having volunteer resources on hand.

Lacey has said in the past when presenting the plan to the Polk County Commission to go for the SAFER grant that if the department got the grant in order to move forward, the commission would need to look at the possibilit­y of moving stations in the coming years to increase the amount of area each fire station could cover.

The applicatio­n is due Feb. 15.

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