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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Get Firewise: Smokey the Bear’s 75th Birthday

Community, Outdoors

Currently there are four Firewise communities in Gilmer County, and they hope to expand that even further. Watch to learn about Firewise and how it can be very beneficial!

Rough Ridge Fire Containment

News

With close to 28,000 acres burned, Gilmer Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett has informed FYN that the Rough Ridge Fire should be calming soon.

Authorities have contained 80% – 90% of the Fire, said Pritchett as he went on to inform FYN that the smoke that we’ve felt easing in the County should also be leaving us soon. Major concerns at this point will follow hot spots and flare ups inside the containment area as some of the trees and leaves that survived the fire could reignite with embers.

More importantly the drought conditions of the North Georgia area continue to worsen, though our area has received some rain, Pritchett stated the Burn Ban and Drought Restrictions will remain. FYN asked what he thought the County would need to break the drought, to which Pritchett replied, “a couple to a few weeks of steady slow rain to soak into the soil rather than run off.”

With the winter months setting in, Gilmer could also see relief with snowfall in the coming months to help with the drought as the melt off would slowly bring more water as well.

 

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Another Fire Erupts in Leeches Area

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Late Sunday, the Gilmer County Public Safety Department reported they were fighting a fire that had broken out in the woods near Highway 382 in the Leeches and Log Round Mountain area.

Gilmer Public Safety Photos

Gilmer Public Safety Photos

The emergency services of Gilmer Fire were aided by the Georgia Forestry Service to quickly respond to the fast-moving wildfire, moving to contain and extinguish the fire.

While Gilmer has gotten the fire under control and containment with no reported injuries or property damage as of Monday at 7:00am, an initial estimate of at least 50 acres have been burned.

This is one more example of the current state of North Georgia suffering in the current drought. Gilmer Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett once again urged citizens to respect the current Fire Ban and avoid burning anything outdoors in order to aid the services as they continue to fight these blazes. Even considering the recent and coming rain, the Burn Ban will remain until substantial rain can remove us from the conditions

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Jennifer Hinckley and the Rough Ridge Fire Update

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Brian presents a full update on the Rough Ridge Fire started by a lightning strike.

Jennifer Hinckley, Planning Section Chief with the Southern Area Gold Incident Management Team and US Forestry Service’s Forest Prescribed Fire Specialist on the Tahoe National Forest in California, walks you through the details of the Rough Ridge Fire, it’s cause, and details on the fight against it.

 

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Fire Closes Nantahala Gorge

Featured, News

A 14-mile section of U.S. 74/N.C. 19 in Swain County has been closed due to debris from nearby wildfires.

The stretch of road, which goes through the Nantahala Gorge, will be closed to all traffic until officials deem the area safe for residents and visitors.

Crews from the Department of Transportation have established a 30-mile detour around the closure, which will add longer travel time for motorists driving in Western North Carolina.

Southbound traffic is being detoured on the following route: North on N.C. 28 to Stecoah, south on N.C. 143 in Robbinsville, then south on U.S. 129 to Topton. Northbound traffic will follow that route in reverse.
Fires in the area have resulted in loose debris and rocks tumbling to the U.S. 74/N.C. 19 creating dangerous situations.

Transportation officials remind motorists that wildfires create smoke that can quickly reduce visibility. Motorists are advised to slow down, obey all posted signs and add extra time into upcoming plans.
Visit the Traveler Services Section of NCDOT.gov for real-time traffic information at follow NCDOT on Twitter.

Wildfire Spreads as County Calls for Burn Ban Support

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The Wildfire located in the Three Forks Area of the Cohutta Wilderness Area is continuing to spread over 10,336 acres as of 10:00am this morning.

Gilmer County Public Safety Directory and Fire Chief Tony Pritchett has told FYN that Gilmer will become increasingly involved in supporting the fight against the wildfire as they are stepping up their aid and numbers.

Most of the Gilmer County Residents have noticed the heavy smoke lingering in the area of Gilmer County, Fannin County, and further north. With many still asking how big the scale is, the 10,000 acre fire is only 13% contained. However, Director Pritchett is assuring the public that they are keeping a very close eye on the fire and will have plenty of warning to evacuate any areas in danger before the fire can reach them.

This is only a small part of the greater problem as fires are continuing to spread over North Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and even into North Carolina. Gilmer is joining a much larger effort headed by the U.S. Forestry Service and including the Georgia Forestry Commission, and Georgia Emergency Management Agency in our area. “Our primary focus now is to support the U.S. Forestry Service,” says Pritchett as he explained Gilmer’s plans moving forward.

Gilmer Fire would take over in local areas should any homes or residences become endangered, though currently there is not an immidiate threat. That does not stop citizens concerns as gusty winds are expected over the area of North Georgia throughout our weekend.

Director Pritchett has already issued a Burn Ban for Gilmer County. In fact, the County Commissioners are also set to approve official support at their scheduled meeting tonight, November 10. This comes as our area is currently experiencing a dryness we not at all used to experiencing, according to Pritchett, and as such it makes anything a possibility.

Pritchett stated he had been trying to hold of on the Ban as he understands backyard fires and firepits are rather common in the area, but with conditions as they are, “I would be remiss if I waited longer.”

Pritchett explained why he couldn’t wait any longer saying it has become more about our citizens and their safety. As this wildfire rages and the smoke fills our area, it becomes much harder to notice and respond to fires in our area. Thus, the greatest help Gilmer citizens can do for the Fire and Rescue services is to heed the Burn Ban, take it seriously and support the ban with your neighbors. Citizens should also be removing leaves and burnable materials from around their houses should a local fire outbreak in these conditions as well.

Additionally, the heavy smoke from the fires have caused health concerns as far spread as Kentucky. Locally, authorities are suggesting people avoid the smoke if possible, especially those you already have health concerns or respiratory issues.

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Cohutta Wildfire Update: Increase in Fire Control Measures as Fire Expected to be Larger than 3,000 Acres

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On Wednesday morning, Nov. 2nd, Jeff Gardner, USFS District Ranger for Conasauga District provided FetchYourNews with the following information about the Rough Ridge wildfire in the Cohutta Wilderness Area.  Story begins below map.

Map showing location of Rough Ridge fire. Orange outlines the shape of the fire. Dark brown shows the fire containment lines USFS is using.

As of Tuesday evening, the Rough Ridge wildfire was at 2,771 acres. The main part of the fire is on the east side of Rough Ridge trail and is moving on a north, north-east track following the ridge line. The northern extent of the fire is near Crooked Dogwood Gap. Fire has backed down to the Jacks River all the way to Sugar Cove Branch.

Estimates from last week was that it would be about 3,000 acres in size.  Gardner now says that the fire will exceed 3,000 acres but did not provide information on how large the fire could become.

The wildfire jumped two control lines early this week.  On the west side, the fire crossed Rough Ridge trail and is now established on the western side of the mountain near Ash Hopper Branch, burning in a south to north direction.  Fire crews plan to stop the western side of the fire at Rough Creek.

On the east side, embers from the fire crossed Conasauga Creek and ignited roughly 40 acres.  Two other spots crossed the control line west of Jones Settlement and were contained at 2 and 15 acres.  USFS used bulldozers to make a clean fire line around these areas.  Crew members camped at the control lines east of Consauga Creek so they could walk the fire lines day and night.  Fannin County EMA sent trucks to the area yesterday in case the spread outside into Jones Settlement. USFS is also conducting water drops on the western edge of Jones Settlement.

Jones Settlement contains about 25 cabins.  According to Gardner, it is the only piece of property in Fannin County that backs up to the Cohuttas.  The rest of the wilderness is surrounded by National Forest.

USFS is now conducting water drops on the fire to keep its heat down.  USFS is using two helicopters to make the drops. One has a 150 gallon capacity and draws its water from a bucket filled at Lake Ocoee.  The other has a 2,880 gallon capacity and uses a snorkel which sucks water up from the lake.  Both helicopters are using Lake Ocoee as it is five minutes by air from the fire area.  Lake Blue Ridge is much further.

Within a Wilderness Area, fire crews must use fire control methods that have minimal impact. USFS’ overall plan is to control the fire with natural barriers like Jack’s River, Conasauga Creek and Rough Creek and man-made fire breaks such as Rough Ridge and East Cowpen trails. In total, USFS has established 15 miles of control lines, which included natural and man-made fire breaks. Fire crews daily hike the natural and man-made fire breaks to clean the breaks of leaves or dead fall which fire could use to travel over the breaks.  Crews are also igniting back fires from the fire breaks with the idea that the back fires will burn up all the fuel between it and the main fire, leaving the main fire with nothing to fuel it.   USFS is also conducting a daily fly-over of the fire.  The site of the fire is an extremely remote, rugged area with limited access.  Crews must hike in all their firefighting equipment like shovels and saws.

A lightning strike ignited Rough Ridge fire in mid-October.  Gardner said that lightning strikes only start 3% of the fires in the Cohutta Wilderness Area.  The other 97% of fires are human-caused.  In fact, Conasauga District rangers are now dealing with fires in the western part of their district and have brought in a fire management crew to oversee the Rough Ridge fire in the Cohuttas.

Gardner says that Fannin County can expect Rough Ridge fire to burn for a while.  The next predicted rain is in the middle of November.  Other weather services say that north Georgia’s drought could last through winter.

The fire burns more slowly in the morning hours due to higher humidity and lower temperatures.  In the afternoon, low humidity and higher temperatures cause the fire to pick up again.  Wind directions change day to day, so different communities may experience smoke impacts on different days.

A burn ban for Fannin County started on Oct.22nd. There should be no outdoor burning of any type including fire pits, campfires and burn barrels. On Oct. 23rd  a smoldering fire pit on an outdoor deck in Gwinnett County started a fire which engulf the house, killing all five people in the house. Fannin County EMA and Fire Department remind residents one floating ember can start a fire.

Current closures associated with the Rough Ridge wildfire include:

  • Forest Service Road 64 from Betty Gap trailhead to Three Forks trailhead
  • Three Forks trailhead parking lot
  • East Cowpen trail from Three Forks parking lot to the junction with Panther Creek trail, and
  • Entire length of Rough Ridge trail from the junction with East Cowpen trail to Jacks River trail.

 

 

 

 

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