Grants and budget bring upgrades to the fire department

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upgrades to the fire department

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Fire Department is finally seeing the fruition of over a year of planning, adjustments, and applications as they catalog the many upgrades to the fire department.

It’s not just the fire protection that has seen these improvements, however, as Public Safety Director Keith Kucera and Gilmer Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman showcased the new purchases.

Carrying nearly 80 pounds in extra weight, Gilmer Firefighters rely on the gear for safety and protection in their daily service.

“It’s been a busy year,” said Kauffman, “Purchasing equipment and updating to safer and more reliable equipment.”

While the uniforms and the turnout gear came from the county budget after a request came to repurpose capital funds from a pumper tanker truck for the department. Instead of that truck, the county has outfitted the safety turnout gear for fire and rescue as well as new uniforms for members of the department.

In a concerted effort, Kucera, Kauffman, and County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris all said they wanted the new uniforms to be a sign of Gilmer’s professionalism. The county purchased 114 Flying Cross brand uniforms that bear the county name and one patch on the shoulder. Confirming that some employees had used uniforms from other places, Kauffman noted the new uniforms are to show off effort and hard work they do. Having upgrades to the fire department is one thing, but outfitting the employees’ uniforms is a matter of pride.

The new air packs host a special standardized feature to allow other firefighters to hook up to them to share their air in cases of pack failure.

The upgrades include everything in the outfit. Everything from head to toe on these firefighters is new. New jackets, pants, and boots are only the foundation. The department received new air tanks to double capacity from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. The tanks are the same size, not increasing the weight, but the extra capacity and pressure allow these men and women to operate longer in firefights.

These new tanks are also a part of a new statewide standard that has the capability for firefighters to go to a fellow firefighter, who may have fallen, blacked out, or is just having issue with his tank, and connect their line to his tank as well. This provides air to someone in a dire situation with tank failure. This system is already in use by the Ellijay Fire Department, improving the cooperation between the two agencies.

The new handheld thermal imaging cameras, left, are much smaller in size, but come with a shorter range than the larger, older versions, right.

Additionally, a firefighter is equipped with a pass device. If one stands still in their equipment for 15 seconds, alarms go off notifying those nearby alerting others through audio and visual alarms. They also come with newer voice amplifiers that are now constantly on and better quality sounds to facilitate communication. New Nomex hoods go under the jacket covering the head as well.

Through the Emergency Management Performance Grant, the department has purchased eight handheld thermal imaging cameras. Much smaller than the average camera used. With a 300 foot range, these cameras clip to the gear to be easily carried and used amid structure fires to both search for hot spots in order to protect firefighters and search for people through smoke or low visibility situations. Additionally, these cameras could also be used outside of structure fires in specific need situations like hiker falling off a bank. Though the technology has been around for years, the compact devices are more affordable now, as such the grants have made purchasing possible.

Much lighter, these Forestry Nomex Coveralls are used in cases of wildfires and similar, holding no air pack and much lighter, wildlands firefighter gear.

New upgrades to the fire department does not mean disposing of the old, however. Kauffman said, “Guys want to train in their gear. It allows them to train in gear that’s not designed for firefighting. And they don’t have to use their gear where they may damage it, rip it, or get it sweaty or smelly. We’ll actually mark the gear as training so it doesn’t get mixed up for fire fighting purposes.”

Kucera also said the department uses older gear like this for the Rangers Program and public events like last year’s appearance and gear tryouts at the Apple Festival.

This isn’t the only gear that’s new to the department, either. Through other grants, other sets of specialty gear of been purchased including forestry and chainsaw safety gear.

With the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Grant, the Gilmer County Fire Department, 14 Forestry Nomex Coveralls were purchased for safety in the woods as these firefighters aid in controlled burns or find themselves fighting a wildfire as Gilmer has seen in recent years. A different process than structure fires, this gear provides different functionality. Wildfires are about control and containment instead of structure fires where they would enter for search and rescue and focus on extinguishing fires. This gear is also far more lightweight.

Arborist gear, purchased from recent grants in 2019, is used when utilizing chainsaws on downed trees and similar situations in Gilmer County.

Just as Gilmer aided in the wildfires in the past year, they are also on standby with the damage from hurricane Dorian coming through. With the department’s boats, usually used in rescue operations in nearby lakes and rivers, being on standby has specific travel supplies and equipment made ready and in staging positions if a need is called for.

The last set of gear, also from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Grant, eight sets of arborist gear will be used for storms, wind damage, and other needed situations as fallen trees are very common in Gilmer County.

A firefighter packs on an average of 60 – 80 pounds according to Kucera, but this new gear, including the expanded capacity air packs, handheld thermal imaging cameras, and standardized hosing and connectors, its 80 pounds of safety and protection. adding extra capabalities without massively increasing weight is just a part of these upgrades for the fire department as these men and women serve the community in what they do.

Their service is not just Gilmer County, but any in need through grants and agreements for mutual aid as well as disaster situations like so many communities are facing against Hurricane Dorian.

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Authorities address storm damage in Gilmer

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(All photos provided by the Gilmer County Public Safety Department.)

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Authorities are still finding damage and reports from the last two days of storms, meanwhile volunteers and citizens are banning together to clear roadways, driveways, and yards from debris.

According to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, “60 mph wind gusts and penny size hail” were the main concerns from the storms. Authorities also fought with heavy rains and visibility on roads.

Coosawattee River Resort dealt with numerous downed power lines and both Pike Electric and Amicalola EMC workers were seen across the county yesterday before the second round of storms came through.

While FYN has not received reports from citizens or county authorities on any casualties and no public releases have been made, there has been on major note of damage inside the city limits. The clock tower, of Clocktower Crossing, was destroyed.

Authorities are saying that the damage was caused by the storms in the early morning on Saturday. Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office reports that Holden Road and Wood Ridge Drive are impassable at this time.

In addition to clean up efforts for the tower, business and county personnel, specifically Road and Power crews, have been working the damage for nearly 35 hours today. As of 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Amicalola Electric Membership Corporation is still reporting 703 homes without power in Gilmer alone, plus an additional 610 in surrounding counties.

They have also issued the following statement,

Severe storms with high winds blew through last night, leaving downed power lines across our service area. Outages are down from around 10,000 members at the peak, to currently around 4100, primarily in Gilmer County. Amicalola EMC crews have been working through the night and additional crews, from other companies, have been called in to assist restoration efforts. Use extreme caution if you are near a downed power line. Never go near a downed line, always assume lines are still energized. To report an outage please call one of the following: 706-253-0359, 706-276-0359 or 706-864-0359. All power will be restored as soon as is safely possible.

While no definitive statement has been made, public statements and statistics indicate that Gilmer may have been hit the worse of the 515 corridor at least.

Gilmer County Public Safety has also offered citizens a reminder list of Damage Control Contacts:

Emergency – City and County: Dial 911
Non-Emergency: Dial 706-635-8911

Road Department – County: 706-635-4589
Street Department – City:
Business Hours: 706-635-4711
After Business Hours: 706-635-8911

Georgia Power: 888-891-0938
Amicalola EMC: 706-253-0359 or 706-276-0359
Tri-County EMC: 866-254-8100 or 478-986-8100

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Gilmer Preps for Florence

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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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Gilmer “survives” the storm

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer continues to clean up and recover from Saturday mornings storm, officials are beginning to assess damage and costs for the county.

According to Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, around 4 a.m. on Saturday morning emergency services began receiving calls for aid around the county.

As one of the hardest hit counties in North Georgia, the damage with downed trees and powerlines alone could have weeklong effects according to reports as power outages continue and line-men continue working around the clock to repair both downed line and downed poles. There have also been reports of mudslides causing damage to areas, but no roads have been blocked or destroyed.

Pritchett reports that the emergency services only had one reported injury as a tree fell on a local woman’s camper in the Coosawattee area. As paramedics reached the woman, she was taken to an area hospital. However, no reports of any fatalities have come in as authorities are still, days later, responding to calls for aid.

As the intensity of the storm increase through the early hours, an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 homes lost power in the county between Amicalola Electric Company and Georgia Power. Public Safety has counted 20 homes with trees on top of them as they continue the survey process. These were just a few of the different situations that Pritchett says they have continued responding to in the days since the storm.

County services are in full swing with the Gilmer County Road Department and Public Safety department both attempting to clear trees from the roads as they find them.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN that the county is still collecting estimates for exact amounts of costs of the damage. However, their biggest disaster came in the Buckhorn area and the county golf course which lost part of its most recent paving of the cart path, has numerous trees down on the greens, and is still looking at water damage to the course. Early predictions say the course will not re-open to the public until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.

Despite the highest damage to county facilities and equipment being there, the hardest hit part of Gilmer County is actually inside Coosawattee, according to Pritchett. While the county continues the clean up in the outer areas of the county and the cities deal with the damage inside their limits, Coosawattee’s Public Works department is dealing with the mass of downed trees and road damage inside the resorts gated community.

Gilmer has also experienced flooding in low-level areas. However, River Park, which has become notorious for flooding and flood damage in recent years, made it through the storm, according to Paris, with minimal damage and little to no flooding through the buildings.

The major damage from the rainfall came with 5 damaged culvert pipes. Director of Public Works, Jim Smith told FYN that four of those pipes had part of their base wash away as water overtook the pipe and began flowing over the road. The fifth pipe, however, was located on Tyler Road, just off of Highway 282, and was completely washed out and carried away. This pipe had to be replaced and reset. However, the Road Department has all five locations repaired and passable for vehicles at this time.

Alongside the continuing official response of the county, citizens are also still out in droves continuing to help neighbors chainsaw trees in driveways and across roads that authorities haven’t reached yet. Citizens across the county are calling it a major storm, the likes of which they have not seen before.

Citizens are also reporting damage tolls in the hundreds of thousands between damage to homes and vehicles being damaged or crushed by falling branches, trees, hail, power poles, and other debris. Reports of damage continue through local farms including at least one chicken house struck by lightning and burnt down.

Continuing reports of high wind, continuous lightning, and heavy rain have locals calling it a “tornado-like storm without the tornado.”

Officials agree as the Public Safety Department is currently sharing all their information collected with the National Weather Service in attempts to classify the storm. Pritchett confirmed that they are collecting damage reports and assessing weather data to assess the possibility of microbursts, straight-line winds, or actual tornadic activity.

Gilmer is not alone in its time of recovery, though. As is common practice with power companies, Gilmer is receiving aid from counties all over Georgia. Crews are in town this week from Volt Power, Amicalola Electic, Pike Electric, Sumter Electric, and Georgia Power among others. Two visiting workers confirmed they were from Columbus, Ga. and Atlanta, Ga. With others coming in from across the state, work is continuing for those parts of Gilmer and North Georgia that are still without power.

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Gilmer Prepares for Severe Storms

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued warning for most of Georgia involving the coming severe storms.

Gilmer is included as the eastern half is set for severe storms, wind, and possibly hail. However, the western half of Gilmer is included in the NWS “Enhanced Risk” warnings, meaning citizens should be prepared for massive rainfall, large hail, potential tornadoes, and damaging wind reaching up to 60 mph.

While citizens are preparing for all the potential dangers, most are afraid of the possibility of flooding in their area. One citizen reported pea sized hail already falling outside at the East Ellijay Walmart.

The Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke with FYN about the coming storms saying, “Hopefully, it  will move through the county without incident. Nevertheless, our people are geared up and ready to go.”

Being aware of the warnings, Pritchett says the Public Safety Department is ready, but waiting to gauge the intensity of the storms. He suggested extra preparations for all citizens living near creeks and other waterways saying that in Gilmer county, “Small creeks and other waterways could rise quickly. We just ask everyone to be prepared.”

As Public Safety continues preparations and monitoring of the potential risks, the National Weather Service is continuing updates to the storm, “At 1243 PM EDT…a strong thunderstorm was near Roy, or 11 miles east of Ellijay…moving east at 40 mph.”

Some locationsthe NWS indicated in the path of this storm include “Dahlonega, Suches, Amicalola Falls State Park, Camp Merrill, Springer
Mountain Shelter, Len Foote Hike Inn, Black Gap Shelter, Stover Creek Shelter, Hawk Mountain Shelter, Nimblewill, Roy, Gaddistown, Gooch, and Mountain Shelter.”

Gilmer Schools have even cancelled all afternoon activities for today, March 19, due to the storms, although they are planning to move ahead with their scheduled Board Meeting at 6 pm.

Stay with FetchYourNews as update continue on the storm’s severity and potential damage in the county. Again, if you begin to see water rising near your homes, seek shelter elsewhere to avoid being trapped. This became a real issue to citizens with flooding over recent years.

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Icy road conditions in north Georgia – Storm Tracker FYN

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Flooding in North Georgia Closes Schools and Roads

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Several areas in North Georgia are affected from flood waters which closed some roads plus Fannin and Gilmer County Schools.  Citizens sent multiple pics and some videos to FYN depicting the water levels and showing some roads covered with water.  Continuous rain over the past few days and heavy downpours throughout the night created flooding conditions in several areas in Fannin and Gilmer Counties.

This was sent in from a viewer in Fannin County earlier this morning:

“I am listening to the fire repeater and the sheriff’s repeater. It sounds like Hemptown Creek is out of its banks both in the Haymore Farm Road area and near where it empties into the Toccoa. They are watching the Toccoa River and I just heard the Sheriff ask if TVA had shut off Blue Ridge Dam. Robert Graham, EMA Director, responded that TVA had the Dam shut off and that they would try to hold as much water back as they could.”

First Response teams and other local authorities have reported roads, bridges, and other areas flooding.  Please use caution while traveling and should you see an area covered in water please do not continue as you may not be able to tell how deep the water and this could create a dangerous situation.  FYN will continue to monitor and inform as the day continues.  Check out our FetchYourNews Page for updates.  GCSO Lucius Road

Photo to the left Courtesy of Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office / To the Right – Lucius Road Cherry Log, GA  FetchYourNews.com

Some areas are seeing a decrease while others are still on the rise.  Stay safe.

Severe Storm Causes Tree Damage

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Emergency Crews from Gilmer worked hard through the night to clear trees from the County’s roadways caused by a severe thunderstorm. (more…)

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