CANTON — The debate on the city’s need for more fire stations once again flared up as members of the Canton Fire Services Committee argued loudly for almost two hours about how to move forward at their meeting Tuesday night.
Councilmen Glen Cummins and Hooky Huffman were among the most outspoken on where a new fire station should first be built, whether Cherokee County should be allowed to be part of the plan and a mission statement for the committee.
Cummins wanted to discuss having a contract with Cherokee County to control the new fire stations and cover part of the city to reduce costs of staffing and maintaining the facility.
Cummins explained there are two city fire stations and two county stations covering the Canton area and began discussion about the optimum location and options for building a new fire station.
“A fact about (station number) nine particularly, is it’s outdated and the county wants to rebuild that station,” Cummins said of the county operated station. “If we build in Laurel Canyon, what’ll happen to nine is if the city builds Laurel Canyon, the county will close nine and build somewhere else, that’s a fact.”
He suggested bringing the county in on the plan.
Cummins said that it wouldn’t be a merger, it would be a contract. Huffman emphatically disagreed.
“That’s where we’re going, we’re giving everything away … what are we going to do, give the police away, too? What do we even have the city for!” Huffman shouted.
Cummins said the consensus that came from the mayor’s town hall meeting last week was that people wanted the committee to look at where the Canton fire services are, where they want to go, what options are available and to find a solution.
He said the three factors of an Insurance Services Office study were based on the call center response, water supply and the fire department itself. He said part of the department’s score depends on the availability of a training center.
Cummins said he’d talk about the ISO study more at the city council meeting, which is tonight at 6:15 p.m.
Huffman told Cummins he wanted what is best for the city.
“We just sit on different sides. I say I want to move this city forward and that is what I want to do. I am not voting for Laurel Canyon, I am not voting for Great Sky, I am voting for the city,” Huffman said. “I think keeping this fire department here is for the city, and for the city to grow after you’re gone and after I’m gone.”
Huffman said he was willing to look at the idea of the county running the stations if Cummins could get the plan before the committee, but called the plan “convoluted.”
Mayor Gene Hobgood said that one of his priorities is getting the ISO rating to a three and the other is evaluating what the city is gaining for the future.
“Is the cost of what we need to do reasonable for the improvement that we’re going to get?” Hobgood said. “I think we’ve got a quality fire department right now, I think we’ve got a good fire department, and now we’re getting close to an ISO that’s obvious that the rating organization thinks we do, too. So at what cost do we make those improvements is to me the question.”
Cummins said the first option is to get to an ISO rating of three, and said “(Canton is) about 1.6 points away short.”
“I also know that if we go and enter into a training agreement with the county, we will get 1.89 points, that I calculate, so just by entering into a training agreement with the county,” Cummins said.
He said one option is for Canton to build, staff and operate four stations, a second option is for the city to operate all fire departments but have employed and volunteer staff and another option is for the county to rebuild in the Laurel Canyon area and the Highway 140 area and have both stations run by the county. He said there are also two hybrid options, either the city operates one station and the county operates the other, or one entity builds and operates a station that services both the city and county and the city contributes to the operating cost.
“(Cummins) did an excellent job of portraying how convoluted the variables are,” City Manager Scott Wood said. “And I mean that sincerely, there are almost endless variables.”
Cummins said he thought there needed to be a lot more research done by the committee before they decided on any of the options.
Cummins also suggested Hobgood add two non-voting members of the public to the committee to contribute their perspective.
Cummins suggested Daniel Casey from Laurel Canyon, “which is one of the areas that is going to be significantly impacted by whatever comes out of this (decision),” and Clay Cowley, a Woodstock fireman who lives in Canton, because “he can offer a perspective from a fire department, and not have any dog in the fight, so to speak, or any allegiance to either of the considerations.”
The committee began the meeting by discussing their mission and ended the meeting by adopting a mission statement.
Cummins said he thought the mission statement of the committee should be “to provide quality fire and emergency medical services at a reasonable cost.”
Huffman said the word quality should be described “by quantitative analysis” and said he thought it should be done using ISO studies.
Casey said he liked the idea of quantifying and said, “It occurs to me that ISO is the quality of our fire services as others look in at us, so if we want to attract business, I think an ISO three, that it appears like we might be able to reach, would be terrific to attract business.”
Cummins said the group’s next meeting will focus on options for Laurel Canyon because it’s the city’s biggest need.