The incident analysis, compiled by Cherokee County Fire & Emergency Services, indicates the county provided the majority of support vehicles and personnel to help fight the May 25 blaze that destroyed 28 units at the complex.
The report comes at a critical time when Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood is pushing for the city to consider consolidating its fire operations with Cherokee County.
The county provided 55 personnel, including 46 firefighters and nine staff members, while Canton fought the fire with six firefighters and five staff members.
Other personnel who responded to the fire include 12 from the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, one county marshal, 13 from the Woodstock Fire Department, 17 from Canton Police and one from Holly Springs Police.
The fire broke out on the top floor of Building 3 around 2 p.m. May 25 and destroyed one building of the complex.
Cherokee County Manager Jerry Cooper said he requested the report due to the county providing the resources and said the reports will be routine whenever the county “commits significant resources” to provide aid to city departments.
Cooper said he personally went to the scene of the fire “to monitor the great work performed by our fire and emergency personnel.”
“The assessment allowed me the opportunity to learn more about just how we handled the incident and county resources utilized,” he said, noting the reports allow him to evaluate the needs of the county fire department.
While investigators believe the fire started outside Building 3, the cause is listed as “undetermined” as investigators have been unable to rule out improperly discarded “smoking materials” or electrical problems.
Cherokee Fire Chief Tim Prather, who wrote the report, said the analysis was completed last week and was not done to assign blame to a specific agency.
“The analysis is intended to provide a factual report of this incident and the important lessons that can make a difference in future response to this type of incident,” he said.
Canton Fire Chief Dean Floyd said he had not had a chance to review the report.
Building 3 has suffered damage due to fires on three separate occasions, according to the report. Two out of those three times resulted in “significant damage, questioning the structural integrity of the building.”
Prather’s analysis also notes the design of Building 3 prevented direct access to the building, because it lacks drive-around access to the rear and a playground located on the southeast corner of the building “hampers direct access to the rear of the building with a fire hose.”
Floyd agreed with the assessment, but said it was “the first hot day” of the season and the heat wore down firefighters.
The report also indicates both the county and Canton do not comply with recommended staffing levels set forth by National Fire Protection Association. Those standards require a minimum of four on-duty personnel to respond on a fire.
Prather said the county, along with the city of Canton, run a “two-man minimum” on fire engines. However, Prather said the department also sent an ambulance with two additional people to respond to emergencies.
“We just have more trucks to make up for the individual staffing,” he said.
Prather said adding staff is driven by the economy, and the county will continue to send more men and women to the scene by dispatching additional ambulances and ladder trucks.
Floyd said the department will comply with whatever service level Canton leaders set forth.
“All we are trying to do is let the elected officials decide the level of service they want and we are trying to meet their needs,” he said.
Hobgood said the report shows consolidation with the county might benefit the city.
That idea has solid opposition among five of the six Canton City Council members as they all voted in lockstep last week to approve establishing a fire district.
The district, which was originally proposed by Councilman Bob Rush, is an alternative to the city consolidation with the county.
No millage rate has been set to levy in the district.
Hobgood did say the report demonstrates that first responders did all they could to save the building to no avail.
“We have a good fire department, but it’s very clear that Cherokee County from a personnel standpoint and, in my opinion, from a service level, they have many improvements to offer our city,” he said.
When asked if the city had failed to shore up its fire services, Hobgood did say that was the case. However, Hobgood said the city’s debt load has put the city in a situation in which it can’t use resources to enhance services.
Hobgood said discussions with Cherokee County have revealed the city may be able to allow Canton’s seniors who receive its homestead exemption, even if the county’s 3.129 fire district tax is imposed.
When asked how the city should proceed in the aftermath of the report, Hobgood said he believed consolidation with Cherokee County is the answer.
“It’s going to be very hard and costly for us to catch up to where we ought to be,” he said.