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Tempers flare over fire services
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Residents who live on the east end of Liberty County, primarily in Sunbury and Colonel’s Island, filled the county commission chambers Tuesday evening. They had hoped to voice their concerns about first responder services. The nonprofit entity Eastern District Fire Rescue abruptly shuttered its doors Jan. 1. - photo by Asha Gilbert

The Liberty County Board of Commissioners’ meeting was at near capacity Tuesday as the Commissioners approved a motion to enter into a lease agreement with the Eastern District Fire Rescue. 

The agreement, however, was about leasing equipment, vehicles and buildings and not about re-opening the stations.

Several residents from Sunbury and Colonel’s Island said they were abruptly made aware that they no longer had fire service protection as of Jan. 1.

At the meeting the east end residents voiced their concerns about the stations, at Sunbury and Half Moon, remaining closed.

Former Eastern District Fire Rescue Fire Chief Joe Martin said he gave the county the proper 30-day written notice to end their contract which meant the stations went officially offline at midnight. Martin also told the Courier he gave different options to the county before the contract ended on New Year’s Eve.

Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown told the Courier last week, that Sunbury and Colonel’s Island residents would still receive fire and EMS services through the county until the implementation of the county-wide fire plan. 

The assistance would be coming from the station at Lake George roughly 15-17 miles from east end communities.

The situation has roused the east-enders who worry about their insurance rates and the possibility of longer response times during an emergency.

“I learned on the first [of January] about the fire department and EMS services stopping in the area even though there was talk and speculation about homeowners insurance going up,” Colonel’s Island resident Belinda Maley said. “It’s a major concern because your house can be replaced but your life can’t.”

Maley said the folks on the east end were already dealing with longer response time alleging that a man passed away in the Sunbury area around Thanksgiving due to a 45-minute delay of first responders.

Sunbury residents worry the current situation could make the matter worse.

District 1 Liberty County Commissioner Marion Stevens believes the response time could possibly improve with more firefighters offering to serve. He also said the county is moving in a positive direction with implementing a county-wide fire plan.

Liberty County Attorney Kelly Davis said a permanent solution is forthcoming.

“This lease is requested in anticipation of a permanent fire plan for the county and is again only an interim measure,” Davis said.

Many residents shouted their objections once the motion to enter the lease was approved by the commission and confronted Liberty County Fire Chief Brian Darby after storming out of the meeting and into the hallway.

The lease with Eastern District Fire Rescue includes the use of remaining fire equipment, two Colonel’s Island Substations and Sunbury Station properties. The county will pay $1,000 in rent and each party can end the agreement at any time with a 90-day written notice.

“As noted in the board meeting, the [drafted lease] is subject to change and correction following final review by the parties,” Davis said. “Additionally, the parties are in the process of inspecting various items of equipment to determine which vehicles, etc. will be needed by the county during the lease term.”

In other county business, the commissioners tabled a request to amend a budget line item for the tax assessor’s office for 30 days. The commission approved a home occupation request and also approved a special exception request for a military veteran who has fowl as emotional support animals.

Editor's Note: A draft of the fire services lease agreement can be found attached to this story in documents.

Fire Station lease

Fire Service Restored to Sunbury 2019-01-09

By: Asha Gilbert

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