COVINGTON, Ga. — Within five years, Covington Fire Chief Jeremy Holmes hopes a third fire station can be built in the southern portion of the city.
The Covington Fire Department is currently working to finalize its five-year strategic plan, and Holmes presented the plan Monday night to the mayor and city council during a work session.
The plan was driven by community feedback, Holmes said.
“We had around 30 people from our community from all walks of life, from business owners to home owners,” he said. “And they filled out forms, gave answers, and we actually got excellent feedback from the community.”
Through the community’s response, the fire department determined its strategic initiatives would be community outreach, training, human resources, internal communications, physical resources and accreditation, Holmes said.
“That is what the community felt they wanted out of their fire department,” he said. “And because that’s what they want out of the fire department, that drives all of our goals and plans for the next five years.”
Holmes said the department’s goals included increasing the department’s visibility, interaction and outreach; establishing a training plan for all members at all levels; and establishing a program to address hiring, retention, staffing and health and wellness and personnel.
“One thing about health and wellness — that’s an important one,” Holmes said. “Last year, more firefighters died by suicide than in the line of duty, and that should concern all of us.”
Other goals included focusing on communication within the department and with the public and enhancing physical and technological resources to provide quality services.
In order to achieve the goals that have been set, Holmes said a new, third fire station was needed, as well as the ability to hire equipment and personnel to make it operational.
For the fiscal year 2021, Holmes said he’d like to hire three additional personnel for a new engine and one assistant fire chief. He’d also like to hire 12 more personnel for the new station over time. There are 55 staff positions between the two current stations, according to the department’s website.
“The reasoning behind the addition of three new firefighters for the new engine now is because we are short on personnel currently,” Holmes said. “We’re short of meeting the NPFA requirements … we need four personnel on that engine; right now we only have three that would be available… We need one person from each shift, so that makes three firefighter positions to be able to bring that to a full company. That’s for safety measures, that’s for NFPA requirements, that’s for ISO … it is a necessity.”
Holmes said the need for an assistant fire chief was not only determined through the strategic plan, but also for “succession planning, spam control and for job function.”
“We have a lot of job functions that we put out to the firefighters,” he said. “And when those are on firefighter positions, one, we don’t pay them any extra for that, but two, we don’t know when they’ll be working again, so when are they going to be able to answer any questions we may need answers for immediately?”
Prospective job functions for an assistant chief included data analysis, human resources, accreditation, ISO, station maintenance and fleet maintenance, Holmes said.
Holmes said the position of assistant chief was removed a few years ago before he assumed the role of chief, but didn’t fully understand why.
“Part of it was, the fire chief at that time — I love him to death; he did an excellent job — he did not fill the need for that position,” he said. “And he must have been a much better fire chief than me, because … we need that position. I need that position.”
Holmes said the department had also done away with two other administrative positions (secretary and education positions).
“And yet our calls have increased," he said. "Our responsibilities have increased."
The need for an additional fire station on the south side of the city was also identified through the strategic plan. Holmes said there had been an 11% increase in response time within the area with an increased call volume.
Holmes said there were five locations being viewed as the potential future home to a new station.
Holmes said the Center for Public Safety Excellence assisted the department with developing the strategic plan. A final draft will be made available to the public next week.
The city council took no immediate actions during its meeting regarding the strategic plan or requests made by Holmes.
“If this council sees fit, we’ll circle back on that in the next two meetings,” City Manager Scott Andrews said. “That’s a huge investment and something we have to be looking at and planning years out beforehand. We do want to keep the same response times and quality of life that our citizens deserve, so we’ll have to have that conversation soon.”
A new fire station, including the purchase of a new engine, other necessary equipment and the land to build it on, would likely cost millions of dollars. For comparison, when the Newton County Board of Commissioners in February OK’d a new fire station to be built for the Newton County Fire Service the on the east side of the county, County Manager Lloyd Kerr estimated it would cost upwards of $4 million.
The Covington Fire Department currently holds an ISO rating of 2, serving a population of approximately 15,000 within 15.45 square miles, according to the department’s website. Covington Fire Department is currently one of only six accredited agencies in the state of Georgia by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.