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County fire sees 877 more calls in '11
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The Newton County Fire Department had 877 more calls in 2011, an 18 percent increase, and the vast majority of them were emergency medical and brush and grass fire calls.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday spending $97,605 on a specially defined 2012 Ford F-550, which will have a water tank and skid on the back to be able to handle medical and brush fire calls.

Out of 5,691 calls, 3,060 were emergency medical while 253 were tree, brush or grass fires. By comparison a total of 111 structure fires, 70 vehicle fires and 26 unclassified fires took place in 2011.

Because fire pump trucks costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, use a lot of diesel, require more maintenance and are hard to maneuver, Fire Chief Mike Satterfield said a specially-designed truck would be more efficient.

The fire department already has one of these "rescue units" at Fire Station 1 on the Covington ByPass Road, and the second truck will be placed at Station 7 on Brown Bridge Road.

Satterfield said no additional staff would be needed. Normally, four people work at any one station. Two firefighters would be on the Ford F-550, which would leave two firefighters to work the pumper truck. If there is a house fire, both units could deploy.

The truck should last at least seven years, but the chassis can be replaced if needed, extending the life of the rest of the truck. Satterfield said it's similar to a truck used by Newton Medical Center.

The Covington Fire Department recently purchased a truck to serve as an alternative response vehicle, because 60 percent of its calls are medical. Covington Chief John McNeil said the truck was currently being outfitted by fleet maintenance.