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Safety first
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It's sad to say, but last Thursday was my last class day of Leadership Newton County. As I wrote in my last column - the one about the Covington Fire Department kicking my tail - our last class day focused on public safety.

We began our day at the Covington Fire Department, where Chief Don Floyd graciously provided our class with Chick-fil-A biscuits and coffee. Food is the way to a Leadership class member's heart. While eating breakfast Chief Floyd and Newton County Fire Deputy Chief Tim Smith explained the history and composition of both departments. Last year the city department celebrated its 100th anniversary; county fire is about 70 years the city's junior.

City fire covers an area approximately 20 square miles, while the county covers an area just under 280 square miles. Both departments have a good working relationship. Something about leaping into burning buildings and climbing tremendous ladders makes people bond no matter what municipality's name is on their badge.

Something both chiefs said was needed badly in Newton County, but has been put on the back-burner (pardon the pun), is a joint fire training facility. A facility such as this would save the city and county money in the long run because they wouldn't have to ship trainees off to Forsyth while at the same time possibly opening the facility up to other surrounding cities and counties. The better trained our firefighters are the safer we all are, so some intelligent minds need to come together and figure out how to make this facility happen as soon as possible.

We then traveled to the firing range near City Pond Park to watch a SWAT exercise. If you blinked, you missed them saving the victim. I think some of the ladies found it hard to concentrate while chatting with them afterward - that whole "men in uniform" complex reduces highly educated women to giggling school girls. I'm a big fan of Spike's "Deadliest Warrior" (geeky, I know) and the first episode of season two pitted SWAT against GSG-9. After the computer program testing, a SWAT member was the last man standing proving that the American group's training is superior to German engineering.

A trip to the Newton County 911 Center was like visiting the Starship Enterprise. Employees at the center receive calls from the most desperate of individuals several dozen times a day, yet still had smiles for our class. They don't have the most dangerous job in public safety, but theirs is just as important. Dispatch operators are seldom thanked for their service to our community, so let me go on the record as saying each and every one of you is greatly appreciated whether or not people tell you so.

The class then headed over to the Newton County Detention Center to hear from Sheriff Ezell Brown and Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton. Chief Cotton explained how out of the six American police forces originally Nationally Accredited, the CPD is the only one to remain accredited for the past quarter century. Again, the NCSO and CPD work well with each other (they get gold stars) as evidenced by SWAT and newly formed units such as the NCSO's crime suppression unit. The CSU, headed by Lt. Tyrone Oliver, is a complaint-driven unit that will patrol any place in the county. Sometimes they have to work with the CPD in certain areas that are "their turf" and to my knowledge this has not yet presented a problem.

The first thing one will notice upon entering the detention center is how immaculate it is. I could literally check my makeup on the glistening floors. After lunch provided by Frank's Restaurant, we got to see a demonstration of one of the NSCO's K-9's. A friendly looking Belgian Malinois named Ringo became a weapon of mass destruction at one command from his instructor. Trust me, when the police tell you to put your hands up or they will sic the dog on you, if you value your thigh muscles, you will put your hands in the air. We also got to meet Jiggs, one of the NCSO's bloodhounds. He's doesn't take a bite out of crime, but he can lead you straight to the person whose perpetrated one. He's a big boy and a bit like a bull in a china shop, but he does his job. He does not like applause.

Capt. Sammy Banks took us on a tour of a pod in the jail - no inmates were currently in the pod. The austere grey of the jail makes everything seem colder. Tables and toilets are made of stainless steel and mattresses are less than an inch thick. I've heard people say that for some jail is better than the street, but at least on the street you can look up and see the sky. Jail didn't feel cozy at all. Freedom isn't free and incarceration is down right expensive. It costs around $43 a day to house each prisoner, and that's if they are healthy and require no medical attention. Start adding $43 times hundreds of inmates times 365 days and you get one whopping number in a year.

After the sheriff's office, we went to Covington Fire Station One for a tour of an ambulance as well as a demonstration of Covington Fire's burn trailer. I'd just been in the burn trailer on April 7, so I just hung back and let my other classmates see what I went through so they could see that I truly am brave and awesome and that firefighters pretty much need to be worshipped. My husband is currently training to be an advanced EMT so I took great interest in the ambulance tour. It's amazing to think that these people not only bring people back to life, but also occasionally welcome people to this world. One of our tour guides had delivered a baby the day before. They see things daily that I hope I never do, and yet go home each day and lead healthy family lives. That, too, is amazing.

I'm so thankful to have such highly trained public safety officials in Newton County and am thankful that Leadership Newton has afforded me the opportunity to meet all the wonderful people who work behind the scenes to make sure that our community is beautiful, prosperous and safe.

Our class has organized a community service project that will take place all of next week. We are collected canned goods and nonperishable food items for a few of our local food banks Monday through Saturday. Below is a list of locations where residents can drop off donations.
• The Covington News, 1166 Usher Street, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Snapping Shoals, 14750 Brown Bridge Road, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority, 11325 Brown Bridge Road, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Newton Federal Bank, 3175 U.S. Hwy 278, 8258 U.S. Hwy 278 or 10131 Carlin Ave, Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• BB&T, Washington Street on the square, Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• DeKalb Technical College, main lobbies of both locations at 16200 Alcovy-Jersey Road or 8100 Bob Williams Parkway, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• People's Banks, 6124 U.S. Hwy 278 NE, Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Crudup & Hendrick, LLP, Church Street on the square, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Eastridge Community Church, 863 Ga. Highway 142 E, April 30 from 4 to 6 p.m. or May 1 from 9 to 11 a.m.

Jennifer T. Long is the editor of The Covington News and a member of the 2009-2010 class of Leadership Newton County sponsored by the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce.