On Easter Sunday April 11, 1982 an arsonist's firebomb burst the tranquility of Georgia's oldest courthouse and the seat of Fayette County government. Volunteer fire departments in the county worked throughout the evening hours to bring the fire under control. It was not until daylight that the degree of this destructive act became evident. Although heavily damaged by fire, the citizens of Fayette County were firm in their resolve to maintain this historical landmark and led the way with the "Save the Courthouse Campaign".
The structure stands today and continues to serve as a symbol of the community's unwavering commitment to self-government and the preservation of our heritage. Not only did this act of terror unify the community, it also served to spark the initiation of a study that resulted in the Board of Commissioners' affirmation to provide for a more effective and efficient emergency response organization. In 1983, Chief Larry Smith was hired in an effort to consolidate 7 volunteer fire departments, 4 volunteer Emergency Medical Services units, and a separate Civil Defense organization to form the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
Today, the department is an organization of 145 career personnel responsible for providing fire protection, emergency medical services and emergency management from nine stations located strategically throughout the county. The department has historically maintained an average response time of less than 6 minutes to emergency calls within the county and responded to more than 8500 such requests during 2014.
Fire protection, which is funded through a district fire tax, is provided to the unincorporated areas of Fayette County, Brooks, Woolsey, and Tyrone. Emergency Medical Services, which is funded through the General Tax Digest, is also provided to these areas as well as the City of Fayetteville. In addition to these responsibilities, the department is also the designated Emergency Medical Management Agency by the State of Georgia for Fayette County, providing this service to the unincorporated areas of the county and all municipalities. Although brief in its formal history, the department has made significant strides in service delivery through aggressive support by the Board of Commissioners.
Fire protection improvements have included a fleet and equipment modernization program designed specifically for the varied service demands of the community. All equipment currently meets or exceeds National Fire Protection Association Standards and includes 2 quints, 7 pumpers, 1 reserve pumpers, 3 tankers, 1 brush unit, and 2 manpower squads. In 1989 fire Station #11 on Flat Creek Trail was constructed to meet the growing demand for services in the central and western portions of the county.
In 1996, the Board of Commissioners approved the construction of Fire Station #6 in Brooks replacing an aging station. Completed in 1998, this state of the art facility stands as a testament to the Board's commitment to Public Safety in our community. A major facilities construction program was initiated by the Board of Commissioners in 2000. In 2001 Station #1 was replaced by new facility in a more central location to provide better response times in north Fayette County. In 2002, Station #5 was replaced with a new modern facility; Station #7 was replaced and relocated in Woolsey. In 2002, construction of Station #10 on Seay Road was completed. In 2014 Station #3 was replaced and relocated to better meet the needs of the citizens of Tyrone and surrounding area. Additional fire station sites have been purchased based on the projected need for future fire protection.
The department maintains an active Fire Prevention Bureau charged with the responsibility of fire prevention, education and engineering functions such as plan reviews for new construction. In 1988, the Board of Commissioners approved the first multi-family residential sprinkler system requirement in the State of Georgia, designed to protect individuals living in multiple dwelling units. A mobile fire safety home complements the department's fire safety education program.
During the last 20 years, the citizens have benefited from these improvements, not only in terms of improved services, but also through the reduction of the Insurance Services Grade for fire protection. Beginning in 1984, continuing in 1989, 1995 and as recently as 2011, the County has successfully challenged the ISO Grading System, (an independent review of the agency's ability to control fires which is normally conducted once every ten years), in lowering the fire protection classification. The current rating of Class IV has resulted in significantly lower insurance premiums that homeowners have to pay for dwelling coverage.
During its brief history, Fayette County Fire and Emergency Services has been the recipient of numerous awards from organizations such as the National Association of Counties, the Georgia Association of County Commissioners, Office of the State Fire Marshal, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs for innovation and quality in the delivery of fire protection services. The department pioneered the concept of dual role firefighter/EMTs during the early 1980s and all career personnel are certified in both disciplines to national and state standards. This dual role means that employees are trained and able to respond to both fire events and emergency medical requests for assistance resulting in savings to taxpayers. The average employee receives more than 310 hours of training annually in order to maintain this level of proficiency.
Emergency Medical Services is provided through a combination of 5 Advanced Life Support ambulances, 1 Heavy Rescue Squad, 2 Manpower Squads, and all fire apparatus which have been certified as Advanced Life Support First Responders through the Georgia Department of Human Resources Emergency Medical Services Agency. Advanced life support equipment is available on both ambulances and fire trucks ensuring citizens a rapid advanced life support response from any of the nine stations
The department has led the region and the State with innovation in delivery of emergency medical services including being the first agency in Georgia to equip fire apparatus with automatic defibrillation equipment in 1985; designed and implemented the first statewide protocol for the use of this equipment; initiated the use of 12 Lead electrocardiography for the recognition and treatment of heart attacks; designed and implemented the first statewide protocol for the recognition and treatment of patients requiring thrombolytic (clot dissolving) drug therapy; first agency allowed to give Basic EMT's the ability to initiate and utilize special airway techniques in non-breathing patients.
The department has received the prestigious Pinnacle Award on two occasions. Beginning in 1993, the Pinnacle Award is given annually for outstanding medical performance by an emergency response organization. In 1996, the West Georgia Regional EMS Council recognized the department with the 1996 EMS Service of the Year designation. In 1998, the department initiated the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) program for law enforcement countywide further improving rapid defibrillation for heart attack victims. In 2000, the department was the first in the State of Georgia to become accredited by the Commission of Fire Accreditation.
Functioning as the designated agency for Emergency Management, the department is responsible for maintaining the county's disaster plan. Having been included in 5 Federal Disaster Declarations during the last 20 years attests to the necessity of having an effective emergency management program. Federal declarations provide reimbursement to communities for damages as a result of such disasters as Tropical Storm Alberto which dumped 18" of rain in less than 36 hours in Fayette County resulting in widespread flooding. In 2005 and 2006, the department led the response and recovery efforts to several tornados that collectively caused more than $3,000,000 in damage throughout Fayette County. As recent as 2014, Fayette County was federally declared a disaster area due to an ice storm event that caused major power outages and debris.
The department is also recognized by the National Weather Service as a “Storm Ready Community”. The program assures the community’s preparedness for severe weather events. Included within the overall mandate of emergency management is the coordination of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which has the responsibility of planning, responding to, and mitigating hazardous material incidents.
In April of 2007, the Chief of the department Jack Krakeel was asked by the Board of Commissioners to be the interim County Administrator. Chief Krakeel was appointed to the position permanently on November 5, 2008 ending a more than three decades in the fire service that included more than 25 years making the Department of Fire and Emergency Services the outstanding department that it is today.
On November 7, 2008, Deputy Chief of Administrative Services Allen McCullough who had been serving as Interim Director of the department since Mr. Krakeel's appointment he was promoted to Fire Chief and Director of the Department of Public Safety. Chief McCullough was a 30 year veteran of the department and has worked in all aspects of emergency services.
On March 6th 2013 Fire Chief and Public Safety Director Allen McCullough announced his retirement from the Department. Chief McCullough will leave a 31 year legacy of service and accomplishments especially in the areas of emergency medical services to the department and the citizens of Fayette County.
On March 8, 2013, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners by executive decision directed the County Manager Steve Rapson to appoint replacements for Chief McCullough. Mr. Rapson appointed Commander David Scarbrough as the interim Fire Chief, Deputy Public Safety Director Tom Bartlett as the interim Deputy Fire Chief and Captain Pete Nelms as Division Chief and Emergency Management Director, and changed Steve Folden to the rank of Division Chief of Administration.
On June 27th, the Board of Commissioners permanently named Chief Scarbrough and Deputy Chief Bartlett to their positions.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services is proud of its accomplishments but more importantly its ability as part of Fayette County government to provide quality, cost effective and professional services to the citizens of Fayette County. It recognizes that these levels of service could not have been attained or exist without the continued support and priority that has been placed on public safety by the Board of Commissioners and the citizens of Fayette County.