After working as a fireman for 31 years in Hall County, Mike Satterfield thought he was ready for a change. So he decided to retire from the profession and move on to direct the State Emergency Operations Center for the Georgia Officer of Homeland Security in Atlanta. But after two years, Satterfield realized a few things about himself and his job.
"For one I wanted to get back into fire service," Satterfield said. "My other motivation was I didn't like working in Atlanta. I didn't like the commute. I loved the people that I worked with. I worked with a lot of great individuals who really had a large task before them and we worked hard to accomplish that, but the commute and working downtown was not something I desired."
So in December 2006, Satterfield landed in Newton County as the new fire chief. What he found was a department in good shape, but in need of tweaking.
"Let me state that this was a very stable department when I got here, and we wanted to analyze the things that were working well and figure out how to enhance them, but not change them" Satterfield said. "And then there were some things we wanted to implement."
Satterfield helped implemented an operations report to be presented to him every month. The report is a snapshot of what the department is doing, ranging from the types of calls the department are answering to the types of inspections they are performing.
"Once I was able to get those numbers in, we were able to address some of the things that we felt like we wanted to look at early on," Satterfield said. "And probably tops on that list were the emergency medical calls we were receiving and requests for service in that area."
A majority of those calls required a trained EMT, but few Newton County firefighters were trained in that field. So the department made a deal with DeKalb Technical College to allow 23 firefighters to attend EMT classes. The students will graduate in December and be certified EMTs. A majority of the nine hour class days occur on the firefighters' off days, so Satterfield arranged some compensation for the students.
"The (Newton County) Commission was gracious enough to approve incentive pay for EMTs after they graduate," Satterfield said. "So there is an incentive there. There is a reward for them going on their days off and spending their personal time going to school. So as a result, the county gets a higher trained individual and the employee actual gets some compensation for it."
In 2006, 61 percent of the fire department's calls were strictly emergency medical calls. When rescue and automobile calls are added in, that total rises to 70 percent.
"What we also recognized pretty quickly was that it was very difficult for us to do our mandated training," Satterfield said. "We don't have a training facility that's available to us. We didn't have a training ground where we could bring our big trucks in and do hose evolutions. So we also asked the commission to support a training facility for the department."
The training facility will help firefighters with specialized and mandated training and also with the department's Insurance Services Office Public Fire Protection rating. The NCFD currently has rating of six, but Satterfield hopes the improvements will lead to a lower ratting.
"Below a class four, there is little or no tax break," Satterfield said. "With the training center and the other improvements the county has made, we feel like a class five is very achievable. And then with a little bit of work with some documentation, we eventually feel like we'll be able to qualify for a class four."
"It's a win-win for us. We get the facility for the training, but we also get the credit to lower our insurance rating, which has a net effect on the tax payers because that reduces their insurance cost on their homes."
The training facility is still in the early stages of development. Satterfield said they were entertaining a partnership with the Covington Fire Department. If the partnership works out, Satterfield said it would help with both department's costs and ensure the full utilization of the facility.
Along with the new training building, the NCFD has two new fire stations in the works. Fire station six, located at 4355 Ga. Highway 213, will officially open within the next few weeks, while station seven, located at 11662 Brown Bridge Road, is expected to open during spring of next year. Nine of the 23 firefighters in the EMS program will man station seven when it opens.
"That will give us two or three months for them to be on an engine with some senior people," Satterfield said. "It's a chance for them to get some good training, to get them acclimated to the system before we turn them loose."
With the department's recent explosion of growth, Satterfield elected to reorganize the unit into two separate divisions. The department is now divided into operations and administrative divisions. Operations is the larger division and is composed mainly of the 78 full time fire fighters and training officers. The support division includes the supply, personnel and the fire marshal's office, which conducts fire inspections and arson investigations.
The department's growth has also led to the need for a storage facility. Satterfield said the department was also currently scouting locations for the facility, which would house not only extra gear, but also office supplies.
"Not only now, but as the department grows in the future, it will be a great asset," Satterfield said.
Future growth could lead to more departments throughout the county, especially as volunteer firefighters become harder to come by, Satterfield said.
"In years past, you worked close to your home, so there weren't these problems," Satterfield said. "But today people commute and don't worked close to their fire station."
The NCFD has been forced to hire several part-time firefighters to fill spots previously manned by volunteers.
Satterfield said the NCFD has put more emphases on fire safety education and prevention as a way to head off future fire related problems. Cydnie Taylor has been hired as a full time fire safety specialist to help spread the department's message.
"Over 80 percent of fire deaths occur in a person's home," Satterfield said. "So we know where the problem's at. And of course children make up a high percentage of that. So we feel like that is where we need for focus education. A majority of the time that fire death occurs, by the time we get the call, those people have already died. So what we have to do is try and prevent that."
For more information about the NCFD, please call (770) 784-2116.