Monday, October 14, 2019 - by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications
Ricky Robertson grew up next to the site of Whitfield County’s newest fire station. He still lives two driveways to the south, right next to two more longtime residents, his parents.
“We’re excited to have the station here,” Mr. Robertson said Friday morning after the grand opening ceremony for Fire Station 12, 2446 S. Riverbend Road. “It’s an asset to the community, and it’ll improve this area – the response times and so forth. It also makes the neighborhood look a lot better.”
His wife Cherri, an agent for Farmers Insurance, pointed out another big advantage delivered by the new station, saying she’s seen homeowner’s rates drop an average of $500 to $800 a year after the ISO rating for the area dropped to a three from a nine.
Six firefighters will man the new station, two per 24-hour shift, and they officially began their service Friday morning after Assistant Chief Randy Kittle radioed the 911 dispatch center to let them know they were ready for duty.
It’s a day that couldn’t come soon enough for Commission Chair Lynn Laughter and her fellow commissioners.
“It’s been a goal of the commission for years to have our county adequately covered by fire protection,” Comm. Laughter said. “The fire department is special to me, and I want to thank every man and woman that’s in the department for putting their lives on the line for our citizens.”
Commissioner Barry Robbins, who represents citizens in the District 1 area that includes the new station, praised the first responders for their service to the community and said the facility fulfills a campaign pledge he made many years ago.
Commissioner Roger Crossen added that he was just proud to be a part of the progress the new station represents and urged all residents to “keep making Whitfield County and the city of Dalton and all the other cities, greater.”
“If all of us work together,” Comm. Crossen said, “we can reach that goal.”
Fire Chief Ed O’Brien says the new facility will be serving local residents for many years to come. “Most of our stations in this county are 40 to 45 years old, so a long time from now, this new station will still be here operating,” he said.
One person who could take advantage of the service provided by Station 12 for a long time is little Grae Henderson, an enthusiastic two-year-old who loves fire trucks and enjoyed climbing into Engine 12 and wearing a plastic firefighter hat after the opening ceremony.
Friday’s visitors toured a new station virtually identical to Fire Station 11, which opened last year in Cohutta. The only difference is that the single bathroom facility has been divided into two private bathrooms, a sign of the times since there are now two female firefighters on staff.
Also a sign of the times is “the latest technology” used at the new station, Chief O’Brien said, including all-LED lighting, water-saving plumbing fixtures, high-efficiency heating and air conditioning, ample parking, a dedicated room for turnout gear and a gear washing machine to help clean carcinogens picked up on scene, and thus lower the cancer risk for the firefighters.
The station is being paid for with a 10-year bond with payments from the special fire district taxes, but Chief O’Brien says he hopes it can be paid off early with SPLOST funds, if voters approve a new penny sales tax being studied for 2020 that could also provide funds for remodeling some of the other fire stations in the county. “What we want to do is add some of the features we’ve done at Station 12 to our older facilities,” the chief said.
Chief O’Brien said construction of Station 12 represented a group effort, praising headquarters staff members Assistant Chief Randy Kittle, Russell Wilson, Gary Hamrick, Kim Mathis and Tim Suits for their help.
“We also utilized many county departments,” he said, "including the engineering, information technology and finance departments, as well as Sheriff Scott Chitwood, who allowed prisoner work crews to help lay sod at the station, saving taxpayers an estimated $5,000 to $7,000."