Within 60 days, the city and county fire department could become one.
The merger of the Thomson Fire Rescue and the McDuffie County Fire and EMS has been in the works for almost a year. The merger has to be approved by the Thomson City Council and the McDuffie Board of Commissioners at upcoming meetings before the two departments unify.
The working out of the details to make a more efficient fire service and to provide more services to the citizens in the city and the county are moving forward, said County Manager David Crawley. He said the work between his office, Don Powers, the city administrator and Fire Chiefs John Thigpen and Stephen Sewell has been complicated but efforts to become a countywide fire system are in the final stages. The leadership is currently addressing retirement and insurance details in the merger process.
The Dearing Fire Department is not included in the merger.
A study by the Carl Vinson recommended the consolidation of the city and county fire departments and EMS would provide opportunities to increase the level of services, enhance career opportunities and fuse administrative functions and issues. It said that because the service area would be countywide, the McDuffie County Commission would be the logical entity to be responsible for funding and governance if a merger is implemented.
“I think that within the next 45 to 60 days, we will be a merged department,” Crawley said. “We would become a single department, and there would not be a boundary between the county and the city when it comes to fire protection,” Crawley said. But, the say so will be an approval vote of both and county leadership.
Sewell and Thigpen see the consolidation as opportunity for a better fire service for the 21,498 population of and businesses in Thomson-McDuffie County.
“I feel the merging of the City of Thomson Fire Department with McDuffie County Fire Department is a huge opportunity to move the fire service forward, and to provide a better level of service to the citizens of the City of Thomson and McDuffie County,” Thigpen said.
According to Sewell, the merge of Thomson Fire Department and McDuffie Fire Department could present several opportunities to improve the level of service currently being provided by the departments operating as separate agencies.
“While both departments provide excellent service to the citizens, combining the resources would only enhance the service,” Sewell said.
The County Fire Service merged with the McDuffie County EMS service nearly three years ago to fulfill the mission of providing the best possible pre-hospital care to the sick and injured while protecting life and property against all hazards and return all emergency personnel home safely to their families.
Merging with the City of Thomson, he said, would allow for the ISO rating to be reviewed and possibly lowered, thus reducing property owners insurance cost. “Resources operating as one agency will no longer be constrained with City and County borders, the closest apparatus would be responding to any incident,” Sewell said.
Currently, there are seven stations in the county and two in the city. The station on Jackson Street has been in need of renovations for quite some time. The station would remain operational for the time being, but it could cease operation. It, future stations, and where they might be are being evaluated.
“The merger would make it more efficient from the standpoint of where stations are built and how we provide services to the citizens overall,” Crawley said.
Thigpen said the merger would allow for City of Thomson to have complete fire coverage and areas of the county to have to have improved coverage. He recommends that the Jackson Street station be closed because it would not be necessary. “City Station 2 is in need of a lot of upgrades and work. This would be an expense that would not be needed,” he said.
When the merger conversations began, there were concerns about how rank among employees would be affected. “There is a level of anxiety that comes from the unknown, but most are excited with more opportunity for growth in the emergency profession,” Thigpen said.
Crawley said there may be slight changes in the consolidation but what the union provides is more upward mobility for the fire service and EMS employees. The merger would create more leadership positions and options for those desiring to advance their fire service careers.
“Everyone would be evaluated as we do now. The opportunities are endless for everyone willing to put in the work,” Thigpen said.
Another benefit of consolidating the two agencies would be the ability for additional ambulances to be staffed on a daily basis, while possibly staffing an EMS unit at City Fire Headquarters on Main Street, providing better coverage than currently provided, Sewell said.
Crawley anticipates that nine stations will be operational with at least two firefighters and two EMS workers at each. There are 42 full-time positions in the fire service, and part-time and paid for call positions. Crawley anticipates that 14 people, firefighters and EMS, will work at the stations in 24-hour rotations.
“As the county manager, I see this as a benefit to all of our citizens to increase the level of service.”
In addition, purchasing power may be improved by ordering for a single larger department as opposed to two separate smaller departments, Sewell said. “Merging may be a positive change as long as service to the citizens remain the focal point and priority of the organizations.”
As a merged entity, the yet to be named department, would provide the best possible pre-hospital care to the sick and injured while protecting life and property against all hazards and return all emergency personnel home safely to their families.