Fire chief gives tour of new full-time station
At 10:19 a.m. Monday, a 911 dispatcher delivered big news over emergency radios across Houston County.
“All Houston County fire stations and personnel, stand by for a special announcement,” the dispatcher said before sounding a familiar tone that’s usually an alert that an emergency call is about to go out.
“Houston County fire station Number 6, location two two zero Ga. Highway 247 Spur, is in service and available for calls from this day forward.”
With that, a crowd gathered at the station applauded, and it officially became the first around-the-clock fire station serving the unincorporated area of the county.
Unofficially, it began operating July 18, answering its first call shortly after it opened. That was a fire alarm at Kings Chapel Elementary that turned out to be false.
But elected officials and emergency personnel from across the county came Monday to celebrate the opening of the $1.5 million station, which was paid for mostly with special purpose sales tax dollars. Volunteer firefighters also raised $67,000 for the new station.
It has five bays and will house the county’s newest firetruck and the Georgia Search and Rescue truck that operates out of Houston. It will also house around-the-clock ambulance service. It has four private bedrooms for firefighters and two for paramedics.
“I’m proud of this day,” Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said. “It’s a great day for Houston County, it’s a great day for the Houston County fire services and it’s a great day for the Houston County Healthcare EMS. It’s been a long time coming.”
At 12,000 square feet on the first floor, plus another 4,100 square feet of training area upstairs, it is also the county fire department’s largest station.
The opening gives the county eight fire stations. County Fire Chief Jimmy Williams explained that the original Station 6 on Elberta Road closed in 2008 due to realignment of stations. Since then, the county has had seven stations numbered 1-5, 7 and 8, so the new station fills the gap.
The station pays another homage to the department’s history. Williams revealed that a portrait of former Fire Chief Robert Smith will hang in the building. Smith was the county fire department’s first full-time fire chief, and he hired Williams to be his assistant chief.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Williams said, choking back tears.
In the next year or two the county is planning to acquire a platform ladder truck with a 110-foot reach that would be based at the station. Williams said the platform at the top of the ladder will allow for easier rescue of people from a fire. Stalnaker said the truck would be made available for use by all city departments in the county.
The new station came about after a fire at nearby Perdue Farms in 2014. Although the fire was quickly extinguished, both Perdue and county officials were concerned that it could have been much worse.
Stalnaker said he offered to build a station in the area if Perdue would donate the land, and the company agreed, giving 5 acres for the station. Stalnaker said it will serve three of the county’s largest industries, including Frito Lay and Cemex, as well as many residential customers.
The county has replaced existing stations with new buildings, but Station 6 represents the first expansion of fire service in more than 30 years.
The county has 20 full-time firefighters and 65 volunteers.