Fire destroys Louisville home
• Firefighters at scene say incident underlines their department's need for additional funding
By Ben Roberts
A house destroyed by fire last Friday afternoon served as a grim reminder of county fire departments' needs that could be met with the approval of another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) later this year.
The home, owned by Ed and Patricia Rodriguez and located at 3048 Georgia Highway 171 North, outside of Louisville, burned to its foundation shortly after 1 p.m. while firefighters watched helplessly, working to contain the blaze and put out a neighboring hay field that also ignited.
A number of firefighters on the scene, who asked that their names be withheld, expressed frustration at what they say is a clear example of county fire departments being under-equipped. Several also voiced concerns that proper procedures are not being followed consistently at the county's E-911 dispatch, resulting in the loss of valuable time and much-needed support from back-up units.
Firefighters conceded that even with proper equipment and the necessary personnel, this particular home still might not have been saved due to the age and materials of the structure, as well as strong winds and the fact that the fire had already spread throughout the house when units arrived.
"I'll admit," said one firefighter, "we probably wouldn't have been able to save this house because she was burning pretty good by the time we got here, but what if next time, there's someone elderly or an invalid inside. We wouldn't have had the equipment or the back up we needed."
Louisville Fire Chief Lamar Baxley, who was off duty at the time of the fire, explained that as he understood it, his units were the first to arrive on scene; but his engine, which held about 650 gallons, ran out of water before backup units arrived.
Baxley said Louisville responded with two engines and what's commonly known as a "fire knocker," a truck that is capable of hauling more water but is commonly used to fight grass and brush fires. Baxley said that while the county fire knockers hold around 1,000 gallons, their pumping capacities are not equipped to adequately handle structure fires.
Fire knockers from Bartow, Avera and Hillcrest also arrived on the scene as well as engines from both Avera and Hillcrest.
Baxley said he couldn't speculate as to whether or not the home could have been saved or to what extent, but there is no question in his mind that county units are inadequately equipped.
"If we had actual tanker trucks and the proper equipment, we wouldn't have had to tie up three other county departments with this fire," he said.
Baxley said he was aware of firefighters' complaints that E-911 did not handle the calls correctly or notify the proper departments in a timely manner, but said that until he reviewed the tapes of the call, he couldn't comment on whether Friday's fire was handled correctly or not. He did say however that previous mistakes have not been that uncommon and that he would like to see more cooperation between E-911 and county fire and rescue units.
"There have been previous situations where procedures that were agreed upon by all the department chiefs and E-911 have not been followed correctly and we've had discussions with them (E-911) about those. The biggest issue is that we're not getting the consistency we need from E-911 to best serve the citizens of this county," he said.
Melinda White, E-911 director, said she was out of the office at the time of the fire Friday and was not aware of any possible problems concerning the call until late that afternoon. White said she plans to review the tapes and times for the dispatch, but could not comment on the correctness of the procedures until after that review. White did say her department has experienced some radio problems in the past and that could have been an issue with this incident as well.
Chairman says he has no intention to sell landfill
• Commission supports legislation to ban landfills within two miles of public schools
By Ben Roberts
The issue of the Jefferson County landfill continued to overshadow the work of the county commission at their regular meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 8 even though commissioners voted to support statewide legislation that would ban landfills within two miles of public schools.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution by a vote of 4-0 supporting the Jefferson County Board of Education's efforts to introduce state legislation that would not allow the creation of a regional landfill - or the change in permit of an existing landfill to become a regional facility - within a two mile radius of a public school.
"I'd like to commend the board for your action and thank you for your support," said Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune in thanking the commission. The action was not enough, however, for others in attendance.
County resident Gary Davis asked the commission for a straight answer as to their position regarding a potential sale of the county landfill to a private company.
"We have no intention of selling the landfill," Chairman William Rabun answered.
Davis went on to ask that if indeed that was the commission's position that they adopt a resolution assuring citizens they would not attempt to sell the landfill. Davis also said he was concerned by another resolution the commission has considered that would call for a sale of the landfill to be approved by the commission itself and then ratified by two consecutive grand juries.
"It is ludicrous for a grand jury to represent the whole county," Davis said.
County attorney Mickey Moses disagreed, saying that such legislation would create "a greater impediment" for the sale than currently exists.
In a related matter, county administrator Paul Bryan announced the date and time for his meeting with the mayors of Jefferson County's municipalities regarding the county landfill's operation and the proposed projects for the upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) vote. Those two meetings will be held separately on the same day, Friday, Feb. 25 in the commissioners' chambers of the commissioners' office. The SPLOST meeting will be held at 9 a.m. and the landfill meeting at 11 a.m.
The commission held a called meeting at 6:15 p.m. before Tuesday's regular meeting to discuss a request from the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC) for the county's declaration of eminent domain over a 30-acre tract of land located in the southwestern end of the county, north of Bartow. That request is with the cooperation of the landowner.
The commission began the called meeting by going into closed session to discuss the land acquisition as well as personnel and possible litigation. The closed session lasted 30 minutes, but the commission took no action on any of the items until the regular meeting, at which time the land acquisition was approved 4-0. Commissioner Tommy New was absent from Tuesday's meetings due to illness.
The 30-acre tract, described as being two-miles north of Bartow on Friendship Church Road, is currently held in a conservation easement, which created the need for the county to declare its use for the property. The county, however, will not be responsible for the reimbursement of the landowner.
Bryan explained that the proposed business, a peanut producers buying point, could represent a $2.5 million investment in the county, with two full-time employees and the possibility of 20 seasonal employees.
Commissioners also approved an agreement with Southern LINC to replace the existing tower located on county property with a new 180-foot tower at a cost of about $70,000. In exchange for the new tower, the county will abate Southern LINC $1,200 a month in rent for the lease of the tower's location and space in the building. That abatement will last for 58 months until the cost of the tower is reached. The county will also receive funds for the sale of the current tower when it is replaced.
With the acquisition of Freedom Waste by Advanced Disposal, the commission also agreed to finish their current solid waste collection contract at the same terms and conditions as it had with Freedom Waste. That current contract is binding for close to another three months.
Commissioner Sidney Norton nominated Ted Johnson to be reappointed to the county's Hospital Authority.
The commission also unanimously approved the six items previously discussed and placed on the consent agenda at the commissioners' Jan. 31 work session.
Illnesses cause Glascock to close schools
• Friday 96 students were absent or sent home early; school reopened Tuesday
By Faye Ellison
Glascock County Consolidated Schools and the Glascock County Board of Education were closed Monday due to a gastro intestinal viral epidemic.
Superintendent Jim Holton said that the school nurse had seen 60 students Friday morning before lunch and 96 students were absent or dismissed early. Holton said he noticed that the schools' absentee and early dismissal rates had increased throughout the week before Friday.
"At that point, it looked like we needed to take some action," said Holton. "We felt in order to keep the students safe and healthy, we needed a full 72 hour period to run its course."
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The 72 hours allowed time to break the viral cycle and reduce the contagious conditions said Holton.
"We had some reinfected. It looked like a cycle of reinfection was about to occur," said Holton. "It is a very aggressive and very contagious virus."
The virus has infected both students and teachers according to Holton. Though the students missed Monday, they will not have to make it up later in the year.