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Westbrook wants Fire and EMS to Merge

Taxpayer's Watchdog Group, Inc.

April 19, 2005

 

Where were you last night?  The crowd was slack with only 7 people in attendance at the BOC meeting, 9 including the newspaper editor and Ed Westbrook, who was on the agenda.   There are reasons that people should attend these meetings, and last night’s happenings revealed below will show you why YOU need to attend.

 

Two resolutions were brought in front of the Commissioners.  One

 was the 911 Resolution.    This resolution takes the 911 Authority board from 11 members to 7 members.  100% of the funding of 911 is done by the County. All expenditures are shown in the County budget.  Monticello and Shady Dale have been appointing members, but this will remove their ability to do so.  The vote was 3 in favor (Bernard, Johnson, Yarbrough) and 2 against (Hill and Pennamon).  This resolution won’t take effect until Monticello and Shady Dale sign off on it.

 

The second resolution called the EMS Resolution would bring EMS and Fire services together.   This agenda item took at least 40 minutes if not longer.  This is another “brain storm” of Ed Westbrook.  He said the response time would be helped because it takes volunteer firefighters too long to respond.  EMS personnel are at Station 1 and Station 3 (Jackson Lake Rd. and Hwy 212) and get to the scene 3-10 minutes faster than the fire truck.  He said the issue is equipment not manpower. However, we hear that many of the volunteer fire fighters have quit because of problems, and many feel that Ed is intent on pushing them out so he can HIRE fire fighters that he can control.   Some stations have as few as 2 volunteers now.  According to Ed Westbrook, the EMS has no responsibility for fighting fires.  They go to the scene and sit in case they are needed. 

 

Comm. Pennamon asked Ed, “How many hours in a day, Ed?  How can you do all this?” Ed said, “How am I doing it all now?”   In the opinion of many, Ed has too much to do.  Pennamon said, “You always ask for more personnel. With this plan you go into a paid Fire Dept very quickly.  Watch and see how much this will cost the county.”  The TWG has talked to several of the volunteer Fire departments and have found the PAID firefighters are not doing what they were hired to do—maintain the equipment, keep the grass mowed at the stations, and pressure check the fire hydrants.  This is not being done.  Who’s supposed to be supervising these guys?  Ed Westbrook.  Yet he requested another paid fire fighter last night to help “test flow” the fire hydrants.  He had already said all this wouldn’t cost the county any more money.  He has said this over and over again in the past, but every time he wants to add to his growing empire, he usually has an ad in the paper for another position within 3 months of telling the BOC “he can handle it.”

 

Mary Patrick requested that the Commissioners table all this and let the public give input.  The public has not been made aware of all this and we wonder how many of the VFD’s knew “the whole story.”  The public should be able to review the Resolution and give their comments to the commissioners.   Commissioner Yarbrough pushed this issue and made the motion to accept the resolution. Commissioner Bernard 2nd.  Johnson and Bernard said at least 2 times each that they need to understand better, they need more information.  Commissioner Pennamon had very good concerns and asked very good questions.  He doesn’t see a plan in place.  He thinks they need to wait 30 days.  Westbrook said he would come back with an operational plan within 6-8 weeks.  Yarbrough wants to also set up a committee to work up the Standard Operating Procedures. Johnson did say, “We’ve heard all the good things. What’s the bad side to this?”  Westbrook said he felt it was “that EMS was paid and Firemen were volunteer and they’d have to work together. That might be a problem.”  The BOC then voted 3 for 2 against to accept the Resolution (Hill and Pennamon against)

 

Discussion about forming a committee then followed.  Who do they want on the Committee to oversee this transition?  Yarbrough, Westbrook, Fontaine, 2 firemen, and 2 EMS.  NO public input.  No “public” person for any of the fire districts. The people pay for it but have no input.  Why? Why shouldn’t others be on the committee?  Because Yarbrough and Fontaine said (in essence) that the more people you have, the longer it takes to get it done. Westbrook said he wants Fire/EMS from Station 1 and Station 3 to participate because these are the stations involved.  Comm. Pennamon says,  “What about input from other stations? What about Piedmont, Shady Dale, Farrar, and Hillsboro?  Don’t they count?”  We also question the EMS being on the committee.  Will they really have a say-so?  If they don’t agree with Westbrook, will their job be in jeopardy?

 

Finally the vote was 3 (Johnson, Hill, Bernard) to table appointments to the committee. Other 2 against.  Comm. Pennamon made comments that he’s against the whole thing.

 

TWG Comments

We’ve never been to a meeting that Westbrook didn’t present something that didn’t take at least 30-40 minutes.  All this wouldn’t have taken so long if public had known about it and people had been able to submit comments, concerns, and suggestions to the BOC.  People are not stupid and have good ideas, but instead the BOC went ahead and voted.  We feel Yarbrough shouldn’t even be voting; he has conflict since his wife works for EMS and Westbrook is her boss.  We agree with Comm. Pennamon and his comments on this issue. 

 

Another problem is that the citizens didn’t know that Westbrook was asking for more personnel.  Is this something that should be handled in Executive Session?  The fact that someone is going to be hired isn’t something that should be held from the public.  People should know about these kinds of things ahead of time.  WE have to pay for it and should know about it!  The discussion of whom to hire and for how much to pay can be in Executive Session, but the fact that another employee is being hired and in which dep’t shouldn’t be hidden from view.

 

One last thought, how many people are now on the payroll for Emergency Management, FIRE, EMS and 911??  All under Westbrook’s umbrella.   How many were there 3 years ago? Westbrook is trying to bring about full time firemen in the County.  He always uses the “buzz word” of the ISO rating going down. It hasn’t happened yet.  We were told that when we passed $1.2 million SPLOST for Fire in 1999 that it would go down.  We’re still waiting.  Ronnie Payne spoke to the TWG several months ago. He said the only way the ISO rating will go down is to get a certain amount of water to a certain location within a certain amount of time.  Our county is too big and too rural for that to happen any time soon. Hiring full time fire fighters will not make it happen.  What will happen is your taxes will go up significantly if we hire at least 2 people to work 24-7 at each of the 7 fire stations.  You figure it up.  You can contact your commissioner

or all the commissioners and express your views.

 

Carl Pennamon            706-468-8739 or 706-476-3737            cpennamon@yahoo.com

Charles Hill                   706-468-8025                     cdavidhill@yahoo.com

Jack Bernard                706-468-5101                     Bernard_jack@hotmail.com

Greg Johnson               706-468-5361                     johnson643@aol.com

Bob Yarbrough            678-625-1195                     byarbrough5dist@aol.com

 

TWG


 

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