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Posted: August 13, 2010 12:00 a.m.

First in, last out: Newton County Fire Department does more with less

By Brittany Thomas/

In Newton County the trend of doing more with less has not limited itself to city hall and the detention center. The county fire department is also operating with less, but cutting the department’s budget doesn’t mean the amount of calls they answer have gone down with it.

According to Chief Mike Satterfield, the NCFD answers between 4,500 and 5,000 calls for service a year. Each call is placed in one of nine major categories, each of which has multiple sub-categories: fire, overpressure/rupture/explosion/overheat (no fire), rescue and emergency medical service, hazardous condition (no fire), service call, good intent call, false alarm and false call, severe weather and natural disaster and special incident type.

Firefighters respond most to rescue and emergency calls and medical calls account for 64 percent of the total calls to the NCFD. More than 50 Newton County firefighters have attended Emergency Medical Technician school on their off time in order to become better prepared to answer the medical calls that come in so regularly to the department.

"We have experienced budget cuts in the current and last fiscal year," said Satterfield. "To help with staff reduction the department utilizes administrative staff to

help cover staffing at fire stations when firefighters are on leave. Many other areas of the fire department budget have been reduced or eliminated," he said.

The NCFD currently has 76 full-time positions, no part-time and approximately 50 volunteers.

In the last 12 months, the department has answered 218 calls that involved something burning when they arrived, according to Satterfield. Of those fires, 15 were intentionally set and another 33 were undetermined in cause. The most common cause of fire is unintentional or accidental, which accounts for roughly 35 percent of the fire calls in the county.

The busiest time of the day for fires is between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., and the busiest day of the week is Wednesday, followed closely by Friday. The slowest day is Thursday.

"The three-hour period between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. is the busiest overall and factors that contribute to that are travel from work and school, cooking evening meals and general activities after work and school," said Satterfield.

The NCFD also has to work against Mother Nature from time to time. Currently, it’s the regular afternoon thunderstorms. Firefighters have answered seven fire calls that were caused by lighting.

"Each season of the year brings its own special conditions that affect the fire department," said Satterfield. "This summer lighting strikes are occurring with regularity this fall we will see an increase in debris fires from leaves and control burns, the winter will bring an increase in fires from home heating and the spring will bring an increase in woods and grass fires as the vegetation is still dead and dry from the winter, and the severe storm season will begin that creates tornados and severe thunderstorms," he said.

"But the Newton County Fire Department remains committed to doing whatever is necessary to provide the highest level of service possible," said Satterfield. "Our firefighters are grateful to have jobs, and along with other county employees, have made personal sacrifices in order to help balance the county budget."

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