The change to no longer automatically dispatching an aerial ladder truck to residential fires south of Tobacco Road concerns some southside residents, who say the city is downsizing the fire protection for which they pay taxes.
According to Augusta Fire Chief Howard Willis, Deputy City Administrator Bill Shanahan and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Rogers, however, the change just means swapping one piece of equipment for another.
“This was not a move to change the level of service. It’s been our intent for the last several years to enhance the level of service,” said Rogers, the deputy chief for technical services.
Though the department is no longer dispatching the aerial truck housed at Station 6 on Richmond Hill Road to every residential fire south of Tobacco Road, the battalion chief in charge can always call for one, Willis said.
The new policy was put to the test Friday morning, when an Augusta firefighter discovered a fire at a southside apartment motel. As a first unit was en route, the firefighter in charge called for an aerial truck, which arrived moments later, Willis said.
Still, in an apparent response to concerns, Willis said late Friday that he will be meeting with battalion chiefs to review the policy.
The change does not affect fire response to factories, large commercial buildings, schools or other major structures, he said.
The city’s six aerial trucks – which vary in age and cost nearly $1 million apiece – are more useful within the old city limits, where there are more multi-story buildings, Shanahan said.
Jeremy Wallen, the spokesman for Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, said Columbia County doesn’t send an aerial truck out on every call because they are of limited use in areas without hydrants or with unpaved roads.
For shooting water onto the roof of a two-story house, deck guns generally work just as well or better, Wallen said.
Augusta Commission members had varying views on the issue.
“It’s like sending a bomb squad off to a firecracker,” Commissioner Joe Jackson, the chairman of the city’s public safety department, said of using the trucks in all home fire calls.
Jackson said he’s requesting data on how many times the aerial truck turns around during a response because it’s not needed.
“I wouldn’t think we would run ladder trucks to residential properties automatically anywhere,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.
The city has built two new fire stations - Station 12 on Hephzibah McBean Road and Station 19 on Brown Road - since consolidation, and the area’s Insurance Services Office rating has dropped, Rogers said. The lower the rating, the better, according to officials.
The rating, used by insurance companies to set property insurance rates, was not affected by limiting the aerial truck’s response, Willis said.