Fire Department Budget Amendments changes priorities

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Fire Department is continuing with changes to budget recommendations since last October.

While discussions at that time had former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett prioritizing a pumper truck higher on the list, the new Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, along with Fire Chief Daniel Kaufman, have urged the Commissioners to reconsider this budget priority.

Instead of the truck, Kucera and Kaufman are asking the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to prioritize the upgrading and replacement of older turnout gear for firefighters. The new gear will be funded from the same money that was set for the truck. However, Board of Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris states that there is expected to be a difference in the financial allocations. Therefore, an amendment will be needed.

With 30 complete sets of gear, three vendors have been looked at. The cheapest vendor offers Lion Brand gear at $61,705.50.

The department is also looking to replace 28 air packs for the firefighters to transition from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. Kaufman said this allows longer work times on scene as well as better compatibility with Ellijay’s Fire Department.

The estimates for the 28 air packs with spare masks and cylinders, along with extras like voice amplifiers and larger batteries, totaled $215,740, according to Kaufman who spoke during the BOC April Meeting.

Kaufman went on to say that the Fire Department wants to get to a point where they may rotate this gear among volunteer stations or other places of need. With this, the department would potentially only be looking to buy ten sets every 3 years instead of making large purchases like they are looking at now.

Additionally, the county Fire Department’s ladder truck failed an inspection with an issue in the turntable at the base of the ladder that allows it to rotate. Kucera stated the truck is from 1986 and it has just “failed over time.”

Due to the age of the truck, Kucera said there is a sole source bid situation for repairs. That bid came in at $39,150. Paris questioned what the cost of replacing the truck completely could total. Kucera and Kaufman both said it would be around $500,000.

While the Commissioners agreed on the severity of the need, allowing Paris and Chief Financial Officer Sandi Holden to look deeper into the budget and find the difference between the originally budgeted pumper truck and the need for the gear, air packs, and ladder truck repair.

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Kucera speaks on Public Safety Director position

News, Police & Government

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A surprise even to him, he says, the Board of Commissioners officially announced Keith Kucera as the Public Safety Director of Gilmer County.

FYN caught up with Kucera to ask him how he felt about moving from his months as Interim into the full-term position.

He called it an honor to serve the citizens of the county in this position and looks forward to the coming months as he builds relations between the county and state and other local agencies. Kucera moves into the full term position alongside Daniel Kauffman as the Fire Chief of Gilmer.

Gilmer County Public Safety Director, Keith Kucera

Gilmer County Public Safety Director, Keith Kucera

Kucera retired from military after 25 years of active duty, where he served in the U.S.  Coast Guard, and moved to Ellijay where he says he never expected or looked to become a Director, yet when the opening came, he put forth his name and served in the interim. He lives here with his wife, Pamela.

It is a move that many firefighters seem happy with. As reported in “BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief,” many members of emergency services showed up at the commissioners meeting to show support for the direction the BOC was taking in their departments, though they didn’t know Kucera was being named as Director, FYN has come to understand that  it had been internally announced before the meeting that Daniel Kauffman was taking the position of Fire Chief.

Kucera said the show of support “means the world” to him. Having the support of the men and women of the departments, and his family’s support as well, is “second to none. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I look forward to many years to come.”

According to Kucera, their support and the support of the Fire Chief is what will allow him to open up more to the duties of a Public Safety Director and allow the fire department to focus on what they do with a chief who can focus on that as well.

This is something Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before as he wanted to separate, at least, the fire chief position so as to not have one person pulled into too many directions and possibly detracting from the service offered to the department.

Kucera said, “The Public Safety Division is going to be able to branch out to the other agencies within the county and build more of a coalition-type group within the county to serve the public better as a whole.” Kucera went on to note that some other benefits could include a better chance at obtaining and retaining grants from the federal and state governments as well as combining into a consolidated public safety group in times of need.

Besides the day to day work, Kucera said one of his major projects to tackle as the Public Safety Director is building community relations. He stated, “I continue to pledge my service to the community, to the citizens, and I look forward to meeting every single person I possibly can.”

Throughout the entire time speaking with him, Kucera never mentioned how he wanted to lead the department or the type of leadership he wanted to show. Instead, numerous times, he repeated that he was anxious to continue “serving with” the firefighters and emergency response workers of the county.

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BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.

To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing  Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.

Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.

Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.

Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.

Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.

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Storm troubles in Gilmer will continue

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With only one night into what is expected to become a week long surge of rain and storms, Gilmer County has seen debris and trees down on several roads.

While authorities are urging care and caution in citizens, the Publis Safety Department and Sheriff’s Offices are both continuing warnings about flash floods, high winds, and dangerous conditions that could last until Saturday.

A Flood Watch remains effect through Saturday morning for portions of north and northwest Georgia. As a result of multiple periods with heavy rainfall, some localized flooding of creeks and streams may be possible across portions of northern Georgia.

Additionally, even Gilmer County Schools representatives have reported delays in bus routes and travel because of the debris and trees the county is already dealing with on their roads.

They are asking parents for patience today as drivers are navigating these roads and conditions. Parents should not be concerned if students on buses arrive home a few minutes later than normal.

Please be patient as some bus routes may run slightly later than normal as our drivers exercise extreme caution in transporting our students this morning.

Amicalola Electric company is also reporting major outages in the area as they continue dealing with the storm. With 107 outages, they have reported close to 4,000 homes without power today. While much of these outages came in the area of Talking Rock and Highway 52, there are others affected all over the county. Crews are currently attending to these and working to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.

The National Weather Service is continuing its Flood Warnings for the area through Saturday Morning and has added a sever weather statement saying,

Wind gusts of 20 to 30 mph will be possible through the rest of the day for portions of northern Georgia. These enhanced wind speeds combined with extremely saturated soils from the persistent rain have resulted in conditions very susceptible for trees to become uprooted and blown over. Trees may be blown onto structures, roadways or powerlines causing further power outages across the area.

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Public Safety Interims named

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to news reports, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has named two Directors as interim in the Public Safety Departments.

Readers will recall when FYN broke the story that Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett had resigned. Current information indicates, however, that instead of directly replacing Pritchett, Paris intends to separate the position of Fire Chief from the Public Safety position.

According to these reports, Brian Scudder will serve as the interim fire chief, and Keith Kucera as the interim public safety director/EMA director.

Stay with FYN as more information becomes available and we follow up on this development.

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Pritchett resigns from Public Safety Director

News, Police & Government
Tony Pritchett

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett has tendered a resignation from his position as Public Safety Director.

Though his letter of resignation is tendered, it is notice of his resignation at March 15, 2019, meaning he will remain in the position until then to prepare and possibly train his replacement. He has served 16 years in Gilmer County, with 12 of those as Chief and Director. He was Fire Chief until 2015 when the position of Public Safety Director was created and he has served in since.

According to his resignation letter, Pritchett cited that he is pursuing other opportunities. Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said that the County will begin advertising for the position in the next 10 days and will look both internally and externally for candidates.

Paris confirmed that he tendered his letter today, February 6, 2019. He also told FYN that he has appreciated Pritchett’s service over the years and has wished him well in his pursuits.

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Winter weather closes schools as county prepares

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Schools have already posted to their home website and made public that they will be canceling school tomorrow, Tuesday, January 29, 2019, in anticipation of the coming winter weather event.

The School System noted that Governor Brian Kemp announced that all state offices will be closed Tuesday due to the approaching winter storm. They stated, “For the safety of our staff and students, Gilmer County Schools will follow suit and be closed for all staff and students on Tuesday, January 29, 2019.”

The County is marshaling against the storm as well as the Sheriff’s Office has also put out notices on social media anticipating the storm. Public Safety and Emergency Response officials are asking citizens to be safe in the coming weather event. Due to the extreme low temperatures and possible precipitation, ice is a very real responsibility on the roads.

Gilmer County Public Safety has also issued warnings to citizens about black ice and hazardous traveling conditions, sharing four major concern alerts through social media.

* Snow: Some accumulating snow is looking more likely across the higher elevations of north GA, along with some light accumulations extending generally along and north of the I-85 corridor, including the Atlanta Metro area.
* Black Ice: Regardless of what snowfall occurs, what is more certain is the temperatures quickly falling on the heels of the precipitation as the arctic airmass sets in, bringing the potential of black ice to any areas receiving rain or snow across both north and central GA.
* Gusty Winds: Winds will rapidly increase behind the cold front during the day Tuesday and persisting into Tuesday night. Expect northwest winds around 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph.
* Wind Chills: The bitter cold temps and increased winds will result in wind chills dropping into the low to mid teens for most areas with single digits in the mountains.

Though most of the concern is focused now on Tuesday, officials are waiting to see just how bad the storm gets before making additional plans or closings for Wednesday on.

Make sure to follow FYN for updates from the county and school system as to any changes or additions to their official response.

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Gilmer Preps for Florence

News

ELLIJAY, Ga – Not even two months have passed since Gilmer suffered through one of the worst storms it has seen in decades near the end of July, yet Hurricane Florence threatens to be just as bad, if not worse, according to reports from the National Weather Service and State Governments along the East Coast.

Both South and North Carolina have seen mandatory evacuation orders for residents in certain areas. With the residents continuing to travel west away from the storm, Georgia’s State Government has spoken about accepting those fleeing the path of the hurricane. The National Guard and the Coast Guard have already been mobilized for support as well as forces from Maryland and even New York preparing to help.

With a recent change in direction, the National Weather Service now indicates that North Georgia could see much more impact now. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett said we are on the “dirtier” side of the storm today in a scheduled Commissioner’s meeting where he warned of potential dangers and damage that Gilmer could see from the southern turn of Hurricane Florence.

The expected impact is so large that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the state.

Based on the latest 11 a.m. forecast for Hurricane Florence and acting on a recommendation from Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security officials, today I issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in Georgia.

The Gilmer Public Safety Department took to social media today as well to warn citizens of “an enhanced chance of impacts for our area. Potential impacts could include heavy rain and sustained winds. This could very well cause serious flooding impacts and a large amount of downed trees. Roadways washed out and damaged and widespread power outages are all a result of these impacts.”

Officials are asking citizens to prepare for the oncoming storm and for an influx of people attempting to flee the storm, even as we are still recovering from the July storm. Public Works Director Jim Smith told the Commissioners today that his people were also prepared to mobilize in recovery and recuperation efforts.

Public Safety also noted, “Everyone should keep in mind that systems such as this in the past have caused SEVERE damage for our county. Although we hope this is not the case. PLEASE PREPARE NOW! Preparedness includes adequate food and water for a minimum of 72 hours, flashlights and batteries, a full charge on all wireless devices and portable charging options for these devices, generators and fuel if you have them and know the PROPER use and placement.”

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated that the county is preparing its resources including Pritchett preparing the Emergency Management Program as the county readies itself to open shelters if needed. He also confirmed that while Gilmer is not currently in talks with the State about housing evacuees, it is prepared for the call with those shelters made ready.

Emergency preparedness goes far deeper than just resources and shelters, however. Threats like this are prepared for months and years in advance. Pritchett made special note of the departments swift water training and equipment in a case of an extreme event saying, “We have very advanced, skilled swift-water-trained individuals that are trained to get to most anybody that is trapped or is in a rescue situation.”

Preparing for the worst-case scenario, Pritchett said the Department already has response plans throughout the county, but cautioned citizens against “sounding the alarm” for something that may not be as bad as they are preparing for. Despite the declaration of a State of Emergency, he noted that at this time, preparedness is the best course of action as they have previously stated.

These are the reasons that he encourages citizens to have cell phones charged and to prepare other means of charging in case of a need. Having these devices available to contact emergency response is also a part of survival.

As you continue watching for news and updates regarding Hurricane Florence, it may be wise to go ahead and program the non-emergency response numbers into your phone in case a need arises.  If you have questions, concerns, or a need contact Headquarters at 706-635-1333 or the non-emergency dispatch number 706-635-8911. Pritchett also encouraged citizens to keep an eye on the Gilmer County Public Safety Facebook Page for updates on the storm, shelters, and impact on Gilmer County.

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