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Officials consider merging fire services
KINGSLAND -- A consultant met with elected officials and department heads from Camden County, Kingsland and St. Marys Monday to discuss a study that recommends consolidation of fire services.

Joe Pozzo, senior manager for EMS and fire services for the International City-County Managers Association, said the three departments could consolidate two different ways to improve fire protection and save money.

But first, a lot of decisions have to be made, Pozzo said.

"You have to have a lot of courage to do this," he told officials.

Full consolidation of fire services would allow Kingsland and Camden County to each close one fire station and still provide a high level of protection, he said.

Full consolidation also enables the three departments to share assets or use existing equipment more wisely, he said. The demand is much greater for tanker trucks at the north end of the county, where there are fewer hydrants and a greater need for ladder trucks to respond to commercial buildings and taller structures.

Response times would also be reduced with consolidation and shuffling existing equipment and staff to different stations, Pozzo said.

"Not everybody has everything," he said. "These are some of the things you look at. I think there is capacity in the system to share services."

Pozzo recommended hiring an administrator to oversee consolidated services and to appoint the three chiefs currently serving in the cities and county as district chiefs. He said the municipalities could also choose to hire one administrator to oversee everything and there was nothing to prevent any of the fire chiefs from applying for the position.

"You may choose you don't want that layer (of bureaucracy) here," he said. "Long-term savings and sustainability are the keys. You get savings by eliminating overlapping services. You save money in people."

The cities and county could also choose to keep fire and EMS services under their existing jurisdictions. Pozzo recommended strong, automatic mutual aid agreements be created, if that's the case.

The agreements should require the closest available unit be dispatched in a fire or medical emergency regardless of jurisdiction. A good mutual aid agreement would enable Kingsland and the county to close one station and still provide a high level of protection.

"You have a lot of capacity here," Pozzo said. "It takes leadership, though. It makes all the sense in the world."

Regardless of the decision, Pozzo said the county's 911 dispatch system needs replacing because the time from a call is received until a unit is dispatched is too slow. He said a modern computerized system could cut the time in half.

Neither consolidation recommendation would save much money because Pozzo said most of the costs are in employee salaries and benefits.

"There's no silver bullet," he said. "There's no million dollar savings here. It shouldn't be looked at as a way to balance next year's budget."

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.



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