Fayette cuts automatic fire aid to F’ville

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    A June 27 letter from Fayette County Manager Steve Rapson about discontinuing the county’s automatic aid agreement with the Fayetteville Fire Department may have resulted in unexpected consequences.

    Mayor Greg Clifton suggested that a lack of timely notification gave the appearance of the city being bullied by the county, with Rapson maintaining that Clifton was aware that the announcement was coming.

    Rapson’s June 27 letter to Clifton said, “The current practice of providing automatic aid, which was started some time ago by previous fire chiefs, was never approved by Fayette County. Effective Aug. 1, our fire services will not provide this direct automatic aid type of response for supplemental fire suppression as contained within the existing 911 CAD (computer-aided dispatch) dispatch system. The existing dispatching protocols within the 911 CAD systems will be amended accordingly.”

    The letter, which noted that mutual aid will continue, was provided to county commissioners at the conclusion of the June 26 meeting but no vote was taken.

    Clifton in a June 27 email to Rapson, City Manager Joe Morton and members of the City Council and county commission said he was contacted by a media outlet inquiring about the county’s move to discontinue automatic aid in August. Clifton said it would have been good if he, Morton and council members had received an email “so we could have been aware that a formal letter was coming …” so that he would not have been blindsided by the media.

    “While I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt regarding the delivery of the letter to the city, the fact is that the phone call was the first that we have heard of the matter through official channels. I must say that this smacks of the episode with the school board, where the first notice that anyone in the city got that school board was considering closing three schools in Fayetteville was when we read it in the papers,” Clifton said.

    “I understand that the county has to do what is in the best interest of the county residents, but then we are all county residents. I am concerned that the county is coming across as trying to bully the city, and that will not sell well on our side of the street. We have had a good relationship these first two and a half years of my administration, let’s not jeopardize the relationship now,” Clifton wrote.

    Rapson in a June 27 email to Clifton said he apologized for the letter not having been sent first thing in the morning, adding that, “We discussed this letter in depth in my office; and the fact that it was going to be released this week, so I’m not sure how you feel ‘blindsided’ concerning this matter.”

    Rapson continued saying, “There was certainty no ill will on our part with communicating this action. As you are aware, the chairman and I discussed fire services might need to contract if the fire consolidation was not being approved due to our political boundaries. This isn’t a bullying, it’s a consequence that was fully discussed prior to its decision.”

    Councilman Ed Johnson in a June 27 email to Clifton provided his take on the issue.

    “We are not jeopardizing the relationship, the county is by the unprofessional way they are handling these issues by not giving the city (staff or council) a courtesy heads-up,” Johnson said. ”I am glad our (fire department) is thinking ahead of the county’s ploys. I hope that you request a meeting with the county folks to get some idea of the tactics they are using.”

    Fayetteville Fire Chief Alan Jones in mid-June advanced the idea of establishing a temporary fire station on the city’s west side as a hedge against the potential for Fayette County eliminating the longstanding automatic aid agreement with the city. It took only 11 days for the county to announce that automatic aid would end on Aug. 1.

    Jones said an abandonment of the automatic aid agreement would affect response times to locations on the city’s west side and could adversely affect ISO (fire response time) ratings which could lead to higher insurance costs for property owners.

    Jones said that the city should not take that chance, recommending that the city “go ahead and open a temporary station at (the) Togwotee Village” retail area on Ga. Highway 54 across from Piedmont Fayette Hospital.

    Rapson in the June 27 letter said the county, “would be glad to consider any automatic aid proposals which the fire chiefs could agree to and subsequently put them forward for board consideration and approval.”

    Rapson said the county will honor the commission-approved Pinewood intergovernmental agreement that details fire services for the area of west Fayetteville. Jones said that area includes the 1,200 acres annexed into the city nearly a year ago.

    “Please recognize this agreement does not include any other portions of the city on the west side which have been covered by Fayette County Fire Station No. 11,” Rapson said.

    Station No. 11 is located at 212 Flat Creek Trail approximately two miles from the city’s westernmost boundary.

    Jones said preliminary conversations about the temporary relocation, including a possible pricing structure for the space, have been held with Togwotee Village representatives. He said the potential space will come with a good price though it will not provide a way to house a fire engine.

    The city’s FY 2015 budget which begins in August is currently under consideration and includes three new firefighter positions. If approved, those new positions would accommodate staffing needs for the temporary station, Jones said.