County fire department taking over

By Ed Brock

By 3 p.m. today the Clayton County Fire Department is expected to officially take over fire protection services for the city of Jonesboro.

In an emotionally charged meeting Monday night the Jonesboro City Council decided to disband the city's volunteer fire department and approved the contract with the county. The county commission approved the contract during its Tuesday work session and on Tuesday members of the county department were taking inventory at the city's new fire station on North Main Street. At the same time, former Jonesboro Fire Chief Jimmy Wiggins and other volunteers were packing up their possessions.

Wiggins said Tuesday afternoon that city officials had not yet told him about the county's official take over and his firefighters were still available for service.

"If the pager goes off we'll answer," Wiggins said.

Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas said his department will man the city's station with an engine company, a medical unit and a battalion chief. There will be at least six paid firefighters in the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Cohilas said.

His people were assessing the equipment used by the Jonesboro department, including the fire trucks, and will determine later if they want to buy any of it.

Since the city cut most of the funding for the department out of its 2005 budget at a meeting in early December members of the volunteer department have been rallying support from many citizens who filled the city courtroom at Jonesboro Police Department Headquarters for every meeting afterward. The city had released a statement previously saying that recruiting volunteers was becoming difficult and the cost of going to a full-time paid department was too high.

Previously Wiggins said the council was ignoring other options and told the audience gathered at Monday's meeting that "obviously the council does not care what you think."

The council was evenly split on the series of votes leading to the final decision to dissolve the old department and enter the contract with the county. Mayor Joy Day provided the tie-breaking vote each time, quashing efforts to reopen the budget to find money for the volunteer department and to disapprove the contract.

In a statement she read aloud to the audience Monday she asked the residents to pray that the issue did not divide their community. She also said the decision had been hard on her.

The county department also provides fire services for the city of Lovejoy.