City of Eatonton moves toward primarily volunteer fire department By Shannon Sneed

Eatonton city officials are in discussions to restructure the staffing of its fire department to maintain one full-time employee and depend upon volunteers to cover part-time positions. The city will maintain a full-time position for the fire chief, currently occupied by Chief Eugene Hubert, who has been working with his pool of volunteers to staff the department shifts on a part-time basis. “Over the course of the last year, we have recognized the challenges related to running a full-time fire department in a town of our size and we have been looking at options and creative ways of staffing,” City Administrator Gary Sanders said at a recent budget hearing. Sanders reported there had been some staff members to leave the department and the positions had not been filled. They are currently working with about 30 volunteers. “We’ve been holding the vacancies open until council is presented this budget to consider what we want to do,” Sanders said. Planning to move forward with paying the part-time members a lower personnel personal service salary, Sanders noted the change would eliminate two full-time positions and help eliminate some of the challenges placed on the city’s budget. That decision doesn’t bode well with Putnam County officials who voiced their concerns during a recent public hearing. “That is going to make our staff located inside the city limits short in fire protection,” said County Manager Paul Van Haute. “Which will also be an increase cost over time as we answer more and more calls.” Establishing and maintaining the best ISO ratings throughout the county is also a concern, Van Haute noted. ISO scoring, which can affect a homeowner’s fire insurance premiums, requires the city to document each day the number of personnel that shows up to a fire or a wreck. According to the average for the highest ISO score, about 18 volunteers would need to show up on site. “You basically need three volunteers per paid firefighter,” said Van Haute. “That’s a daunting task to ask 30 volunteers to respond 24/7-365 with our paid staff being there.” Van Haute advised commissioners they would have to make decisions down the road what is the highest and best use of the county’s resources with the city out of a fire service. “Where is the best use of our men and women?” said Van Haute. “Is it going to be inside the city or outside the city?” Eatonton City Council was expected to set its millage rate at its meeting Tuesday evening, Sept. 5, and adopt its budget during a called meeting Thursday, Sept. 7. 

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