Dean Floyd used the Canton City Council’s public input portion to respond to an email sent by Cherokee County Chairman Buzz Ahrens to council members on Monday.
Ahrens, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the entire Cherokee County Commission, said the goal of his communication was to “provide a certain perspective regarding the consideration of a unified Fire/EMS command organization.”
“This is in no way a lobbying or posturing motive,” he wrote in his emailed correspondence.
Ahrens pointed out in his email what he believes are the benefits of a possible merger between Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services and the Canton Fire Department. The chairman said the issues are providing the best fire and emergency protection for city residents, how to “best allocate capital funds to provide improved service” and improving training for Canton firefighters.
Along with pointing out that the county needs to replace two fire stations in the same vicinity where Canton wants to build two new ones. Ahrens said the city fire department has a significant issue with training, equipment readiness and said the city’s $750,000 estimate of building a fire station is low.
“I would suggest you take a closer look at that estimate,” he said. “You are likely to find it will be closer to $1 million, excluding land.”
Ahrens also said the Canterbury Ridge apartment fire in May “demonstrated important gaps” in training and equipment readiness on the part of the city.
The chairman also said the city has no mutual or automatic aid with the county.
Mutual aid is an agreement between two entities that would respond if they are called upon. Automatic aid signifies the agency closest to an emergency would automatically respond.
Ahrens also alluded to a “very recent” accident on Highway 20/Cumming Highway that he said “shut down” Canton because “your on duty apparatus/personnel responded.”
“So, who covered the rest of Canton?” Ahrens asked. “We did. No agreement, but we did.”
Floyd, who said he was on vacation, told the council and the members of the audience Ahrens’ assertions “really bothered me to the point where I felt compelled” to respond.
Floyd said the estimated cost of a new fire station was provided to him from a state licensed contractor who gave the number based on plans provided to him.
He also said the department garners more than 3,000 hours of training each year and also has one person on staff that has obtained level three certification from the National Fire Protection Association, which Floyd said is the highest one could achieve.
He also said there are only about 50 fire personnel who have received this level of training throughout the state.
“We are lucky enough to have one of them in the city of Canton,” he said.
He also said the city has three paramedics and 12 EMTs on staff, and the department always sends at least one EMT on “every truck that pulls out of our station.”
That, he said, is a requirement for any fire department that’s classified as a Basic Life Support department, which he said Canton is.
Floyd also took issue with Ahrens’s assertion of a “gap” in training.
Floyd said every man and woman who responded to the fire, which included personnel from Canton, Cherokee and Woodstock fire departments, are all highly qualified professionals.
“We (all) provide a high level of service,” he said, adding both agencies already practice automatic aid. “Every one of us.”
Floyd also challenged Ahrens on the accident. Floyd said he check and could not come up with any reference to an accident that “shut down” the city.
He pointed out one accident happened a few months ago on East Main Street in front of Breeze Hill Court and the city responded with two engines on the scene.
Floyd’s speech was met with applause from the majority of the council and the audience.
Ahrens on Friday said the purpose of the email was not to get into a comparative analysis between both departments,
“The basic context of this letter was intended to point out the value of a unified Fire/EMS command organization — not to compare the county and the city,” he said.
The chairman said the letter was about “consistency,” scope and levels of training.
Levels of training, he said, don’t necessarily mean the number of hours, and said the issue is about adding more paramedics to the scenes of emergencies, back-up planning and contingency coverage and “better use” of existing equipment.
“It’s about career opportunities within an organization,” he said, noting the county has 250 employees versus the city’s roughly 25 fire fighters on staff. “It’s about more effective use of capital investment funds. It’s about staging ambulance(s) near Great Sky (and) Laurel Canyon. And then again where Commerce Parkway will intersect with Highway 140.”
Mayor Gene Hobgood was critical of Floyd’s decision to speak out at the meeting.
“I don’t think it’s really proper for a city employee to criticize the chief elected official of the county,” he said, adding he felt Floyd should have communicated his frustrations to City Manager Scott Wood, who would then pass his message to Ahrens.
Hobgood said he felt the more appropriate approach would be for Floyd to sit down with county leaders to express his opinions.
Hobgood also said he didn’t see anything wrong with Ahrens’ email.
“I don’t think he was trying to be critical of our situation, but to really discuss how we could work together and improve the fire services,” he added.
Councilman John Beresford disagreed. Beresford, who has been strongly opposed to any consideration of consolidating services, said he appreciated Floyd’s decision.
He added the county has “taken great liberties” to compare and contrast both departments.
“It was time for the citizens of Canton to hear what a good department we have,” he said.
Beresford also said the city will continue to move forward in planning how it will shore up fire services.
“This is a city matter and we want to leave it that way,” he said.