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Firefighters to host state conference

ALBANY — The Albany Fire Department will be the “home team” this week for the five-day conference of the Georgia State Firefighters Association and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs that will feature a visit from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

The event begins Tuesday and is based at Albany Civic Center.

According to James Carswell, AFD chief, the annual event is a “mixed bag” of training classes, demonstrations, competitions, business meetings and more. It’s the first time the conference has come to Albany since 1961.

“For firefighters, it’s one of the best ways to get our ongoing education for yearly recertification,” Carswell said.

Most all the conferences are held in more northerly Georgia cities, Carswell said, such as last year’s Dalton event. That kind of distance makes it difficult for the smaller fire teams in south Georgia to attend.

“A lot of the smaller towns have volunteer fire departments,” Carswell said.”The firefighters have regular full-time jobs and it’s really hard for them to take time off to stay in a hotel for three or four days. This way a lot of them can just drive in for what they need and drive back in the evenings.”

Two years ago the AFD found an ally in then Thomasville Fire Chief Brian Croft, Carswell said, who also happened to be first vice president of the Georgia Fire Chiefs Association. With Croft’s backing, Carswell and AFD associates made their case before the Association board during the Columbus event in 2011. The result was an Albany event in 2013.

Planned highlights of the conference include a 9/11 “remembrance” at the Veterans Park Amphitheater on Wednesday, followed by a visit to the Flint RiverQuarium. On Thursday, Gov. Deal will speak to conference members at the Albany Civic Center. Individual and team firefighter competition is scheduled for Friday evening and the annual conference banquet at the Hilton Garden Inn will be Saturday, where GSFA and GAFC awards will be presented.