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AFD starts plans for statewide conference

Albany Fire Department Assistant Chief Rubin Jordan stands outside AFD's training facility on Honeysuckle Road. Firefighters from all over the state will have an opportunity to get hands-on training at the facility during the statewide Georgia Fire Chiefs and Georgia Firefighters associations' Fire Service Conference in Albany Sept. 10-15.

Albany Fire Department Assistant Chief Rubin Jordan stands outside AFD's training facility on Honeysuckle Road. Firefighters from all over the state will have an opportunity to get hands-on training at the facility during the statewide Georgia Fire Chiefs and Georgia Firefighters associations' Fire Service Conference in Albany Sept. 10-15.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The last time Albany hosted the annual Georgia Fire Chiefs and Georgia Firefighters combined Fire Service Conference, legendary fireman D.W. "Bill" Brosnan was chief of the Albany department and most of the current AFD personnel weren't even born yet.

The year was 1961.

Current AFD Chief James Carswell, at the urging of Georgia Fire Chiefs President Bryan Croft, who works with the all-volunteer Grady County Fire Department, and others in the region thought it was time the event came back to Southwest Georgia.

So Carswell, Albany/Dougherty Convention & Visitors Bureau President Rashelle Beasley and others from the region put their talents together and came up with a proposal to host the 2013 event, scheduled Sept. 10-15. The proposal was accepted, and now everyone associated with the conference is gearing up to make it a memorable one for the state's firefighters and their families.

"At this point, we don't like to try and put numbers on how many firefighters and fire chiefs will attend the conference," Assistant AFD Chief Sebon Burns said. "But there are 5,000 members of both organizations combined."

That's the kind of number, Beasley says, that could make for a significant economic boost in the community.

"It could be a huge week for us," she said. "You bring 350 or so firefighters into town -- many of them with their families -- for a week, and it's going to have an impact. We put together a presentation (for both groups) on what they can expect in Albany, the firefighters and non-attendees. We spelled out what they can find here, from dining to recreation to hotel accommodations.

"We think that our location is going to allow fire departments from the region that don't usually get to attend the conference in other parts of the state to come here. That's going to give us an opportunity to promote ourselves."

Burns and other AFD personnel have begun the process of preparing for the conference by talking with local businesses about sponsorships that will offset the cost of a meal that the department will host at the Sept. 13 Firefighter Activity Competition, which will be held at AFD's training facility off Honeysuckle Road.

"We're putting a program book together that will showcase local businesses," Carswell said. "The advertising and sponsorships in the program book will allow us to pay for the competition meal. We're also hoping to have some door prizes donated by local businesses.

"We're excited about hosting the conference, but we're also excited about the revenue it will bring into Albany and Dougherty County. Around 70 percent of the firefighters in Georgia are volunteers, and a lot of them use this conference each year as a vacation for their families. We're working with the CVB to plan some fun events for spouses and children while the firefighters are busy at the conference."

The annual conference offers continuing education opportunities for the firefighters and fire chiefs, but it won't be without its fun events. The floor of the Albany Civic Center will be packed with vendors showcasing the latest in firefighting equipment and technology.

"The firefighters and chiefs will have an opportunity to compare equipment side-by-side and actually put their hands on some of the new technology," Assistant Chief Ron Rowe said. "We know how important that can be first-hand. We first saw the e-Draulics equipment (which allows for quicker extractions) we purchased this year at a conference."

Firefighters and administrators will arrive in Albany Sept. 9 and 10, and a poignant opening ceremony for the conference will be held on Sept. 11. Carswell said the New York firefighters who lost their lives in the Twin Towers in 2001, as well as the "1,000 firefighters who've lost their lives on the job since then," will be recognized.

Another highlight of the weeklong conference will be the Firefighter Activity Competition, much of which will be held at AFD's training facility. Firefighters will compete in such events as laying out firehose, hitting targets with flowing water, a timed bucket brigade, scaling ladders and one of the competition's favorite events, timed dress.

AFD relief driver Aaron Tomlinson finished second in the timed dress event last year and two years ago was the state champion.

"It took him between 36 and 37 seconds to go from street clothes to fully dressed," Burns said. "The national standard is two minutes or less, and my best time is 1:49."

Quipped Carswell, "By the time everyone else gets dressed, Aaron can have the fire put out."

Croft said he expects plenty of participation from firefighting units in Southwest Georgia.

"With so many people from our area in leadership positions throughout the state, it just seemed to be a good idea to have the conference in Southwest Georgia," the state Chief's Association president said. "Albany was the obvious choice to host the conference, and I asked Chief Carswell if he could pull it off. He said his team could get it done.

"There are so many fire chiefs in this region who say money is too tight for their personnel to attend the conference in Atlanta or Macon or Savannah or some of the other cities in the state. A lot of those folks will be within an hour's drive of Albany, so we expect a lot of them to attend."

Businesses interested in helping sponsor the conference or donating door prizes are encouraged to contact Burns at (229) 431-3266.

"There are 83 fire departments in Southwest Georgia, and a lot of them are volunteers," Carswell said. "Many of them don't have the means to travel to many of the cities in the state where the conference is typically held. We're excited that we'll be able to give them an opportunity to train at our facilities and learn from some of the best instructors.

"We want this to be a memorable event for the state's firefighters and for our community."