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Albany Fire Department, 911 focus on infrastructure

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Should a November sales tax referendum pass, millions of dollars have been earmarked for projects to upgrade and maintain E911's ability to keep up with the demand of calls, while the Albany Fire Department would use its funds to try to provide insurance savings to more than 1,000 homes in Dougherty County.

Operations for both the fire department and the E-911 Communications system fall under the direction of Albany Fire Chief James Carswell, who explained requests for special sales tax money for both entities in a recent interview with The Herald.

In November, area voters will decide whether to renew a 1 percent sales tax, which would be expected to generate more than $90 million over the next six years.

In terms of the E911 Center, Carswell and Communications Center Manager Charlotte Floyd said that their major chunk of the ballot measure would go toward upgrading equipment -- some of which is 30 years old.

While the center does feature high-tech monitors and sophisticated communications equipment, some of the components of the system have withstood the demand of 250,000 calls a year and are now beyond their life expectancy.

"We're at the point where we can't guarantee that they'll last another six years," Carswell said. "So if SPLOST doesn't pass, we'll likely have to replace these components using the general fund."

Additionally, Floyd said that the center is eager to have uniformity among the systems' components so that each different piece of the system can function properly with the others.

Those concerns were recently made real when a new Auto-Vehicle Location system, which was made by Motorola, had trouble communicating with the 911 center's Computer-Aided Dispatch system, or CAD, which was provided by a different vendor.

"By having only one vendor, the equipment is more uniform and you only have to go to one place for care and maintenance," Floyd said. "That should translate into savings because right now we're paying different maintenance fees when we need work done on different equipment."

Communications officials said that the upgrades to the department should translate into increased efficiency and possibly increased capabilities like the ability to accept emergency texts or videos.

Carswell also said that money has been allocated for the development of a backup 911 center so that if there is a fire or tornado and the current center is unable to function, public safety units could still operate in a separate location.

Right now, Carswell would like that backup center to be incorporated into the training facility near Radium Springs, but a location hasn't been decided.

The city has allocated $2.85 million for 911 center upgrades.

FIRE DEPARTMENT PROJECTS

The Fire Department projects mostly focus on replacing breathing equipment and fixing existing equipment and infrastructure.

Carswell said that $804,000 has been allocated through the city's SPLOST list to buy new self-contained breathing aparati to replace units that will be beyond their life expectancy within the next few years.

"These are all tools that we have to have or we simply can't function," Deputy Chief Ron Rowe said. "We have to have an SCBA in every seat on every vehicle we have to be in compliance with regulations."

The SCBA's that the department is planning to purchase will be in compliance with the latest codes and will feature technology that will allow firefighters to better communicate during a fire and that will keep them safer when entering burning structures.

One of the department's major projects will be to replace Station 3 on Holly Drive. Built on a lime sink, the station is now sinking into the soil to the point where the roof is no longer connected to one of the walls of the building and cracks permeate the exterior of the building.

Depending on the cost of that project, the department may try and squeeze out a storage building where they would keep all of the surplus materials for all of the stations. The department has a history of stretching SPLOST dollars for projects by using city and county departments, rather than private contractors, for work.

This week at the Fire Training facility, a $1.8 million SPLOST V project, administrators used inmate labor from the jail to put down sod and to do basic landscaping, which saved tax dollars.

The total cost of the Station 3 project is budgeted for $744,184.

The department would also purchase an aerial truck and two pumpers to replace their aging counterparts. The aerial truck would replace a 1986 model currently in operation.

The cost for the trucks is budgeted at $1.65 million.

County residents will likely benefit most from the purchase of 8,000 feet of large-diameter hose and two service trucks. Carswell believes that if the department makes those purchases, more than 1,000 homes in certain neighborhoods in the unincorporated area will have their ISO rating lowered, which translates into savings on their home insurance.

ISO uses two main factors to determine whether a home is eligible for a change in ISO rating. To benefit from the city's level

2 rating, a house has to be within five miles of a station and have access to the city's water supply.

If Carswell is right, the neighborhoods that meet the distance requirement but aren't on city water could get the city's ISO level if the fire department can prove that it can pump the water through the 8,000 feet of hose to match the city's water supply.

"Essentially, it's a portable water main," Rowe said. "We'll lay the line out and if we can pump the necessary amount of water, then those homes will go from their present level to a level 2."

Finally, depending on the money left and collected through the SPLOST initiative, Carswell is pushing for the purchase of a driving simulator to help train firefighters without risking damage to fire trucks.

The simulator would also come with attachments to allow transit drivers and other departments to use it as well and it could be made available to other departments in the area.