Some Newton County residents are going to receive quicker fire service thanks to an automatic aid agreement signed between the county and Covington fire departments.
Tuesday the Board of Commissioners approved the automatic aid agreement, which says that in the case of a county fire, the Covington Fire Department will automatically respond if that fire is closer to a city fire station than a county fire station; the county will still respond to the call at the same time as well.
Previously, the two departments had a mutual aid agreement, where either one could call the other for backup to assist with a fire, Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said.
"These agreements have been around for quite some time, and in talking with Covington and their chief, there was a willingness and desire to make this agreement," Satterfield said Wednesday. "It’s a win-win for everyone. The biggest winner is the people that we’re responding to; they don’t care about the name on the fire truck, they just want one to get there."
As of now, the agreement only works one way and only covers specific county areas, namely the Settlers Grove area behind Wal-Mart and the area around Exit 93 on Interstate 20. Satterfield said the agreement could expand to other areas of the county, and he said the city and county fire departments were working to identify areas of Covington where a county fire department would actually be closer.
"There are some areas where the city has reached out with annexation, where they might be much closer to a county fire station," Satterfield said.
Satterfield said that under the mutual aid agreements, the city would be a first responder to a county fire only if the nearest county station was already covering another fire. He said the automatic aid agreements will provide safety and efficiency, because if the CFD reaches a call first and determines that the fire is very small or non-existent, the CFD can call off the county fire department, saving fuel and time.
At Tuesday’s BOC meeting, District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons asked if the areas covered by the automatic aid agreement would eventually be covered by future county fire stations, and Satterfield said they would. Right now, many parts of the county are within seven miles of the nearest fire station. The eventual plan is to reduce that distance to five miles.
The automatic aid agreement will not cost the county any money nor will it add any liability, Satterfield said. The CFD will assume all cost and liability when it responds to a county fire.