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Liberty to elevate fire protection
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During this past week’s county commission meeting, the board approved a proposal to develop a master fire plan that members hope will provide adequate protection to all of Liberty County.    
Fire Coordinator James Ashdown, who is heading up the plan, said the main goal is to elevate the fire services to keep up with the rapidly growing community.  
Even though the plan is six to eight months away from development, Ashdown said it is necessary to expand the paid workforce of firefighters in order to rely less on the volunteers.
There is a volunteer shortage due to their heavier workload in their daily professions and they require much more training, which is difficult to carry out, Ashdown said.  
“As the community expands, we need to make better fire professionals, and we can’t keep up because we’re collectively overworked,” Ashdown said. “The fire calls in 2005 came to 2,365, and in 2006 they astronomically increased to 3,516. We simply need a better system in place to meet the growing demand.”
In the meantime, Ashdown is collaborating with County Administrator Joey Brown to create a committee who will act as a screening board to decide which group to go with to develop the plan.
“Besides Ashdown and myself, there will be a representative from the city, county and fire authority along with a mayor from one of the other municipalities who will sit on the committee, and we will make a recommendation to the commission on which group to go with to develop the plan,” Brown said.
For this plan, the various departments are dedicated and they know they need to work together to improve fire protection for the long term, Brown said.
After developing the plan, Ashdown said it would most likely take a year to initiate and more than five years to fully implement.
“We will need to possibly move or build new fire stations to provide overlapping coverage so the county can be protected. The trouble is no one can fund it. So I need money from the commission and this plan will detail in black and white how we can expand our coverage, while lowering ISO insurance rates for the people within our cities.”
Harry Robertson, a resident on Holmestown Road in Midway where fire coverage is minimal, said if a house catches fire on his street it will burn to the ground.
“We had two houses on our street that were incinerated in recent years because of the extended response time of the fire department, and when they arrived they ran out of water. Those people lost everything,” Robertson said.
The same problem exists in Gum Branch on John Wells Road where protection is low, Ashdown said.
“We began an initiative years ago to build a new firehouse to extend our coverage to areas we cannot reach as quickly like John Wells,” Gum Branch Fire Chief Tom Fisher said. “The county purchased the property for us and we need to raise another $30,000 to get the house built. Until then, John Wells still faces a nine to 10-minute response time.” 
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