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Fire department merger under consideration
Issue to be discussed at second special called meeting Thursday
Fire departemtn

GUYTON -- The Guyton Fire Department is facing an in-house emergency.

A shortage of volunteers has left the department dangerously shorthanded, forcing the Guyton City Council to consider options to enhance citizen safety.

During a special called meeting Wednesday night at City Hall, Mayor Jeff Lariscy suggested merging the Guyton Fire Department with Effingham County Fire & Rescue. Mayor Jeff Lariscy and county officials started working on preliminary agreement between the two entities last week. It is patterned on the one Effingham County Fire & Rescue has with the City of Springfield.

Effingham County Commissioner Jamie Deloach, who represents City of Guyton residents, and Effingham Fire & Rescue Chief Clint Hodges attended the meeting. Former Springfield City Manager Brett Bennett was also on hand. Bennett helped craft Springfield's agreement with the county in 2015.

"We need to get all the facts out there so that we can make the best decision," Lariscy said at the start of the meeting. "My understanding right now is that the department is in need of personnel resources and the county has offered those resources if we contract with them."

Currently, the Guyton Fire Department has one paid firefighter who works 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and "a small number of volunteers with limited training."

Effingham County has proposed manning the the Guyton Fire Department with two firefighters around the clock without increasing the cost of fire protection for Guyton residents. The current fire fee is $100 annually per residence.

At recent meetings, the city council discussed raising the fire fee to $240 annually to meet its staffing needs. Hiring and training new employees, however, would take several months and put citizens at risk. The department's radios are also obsolete.

Guyton's current ISO rating is 4. The council, however, has been warned that it will rise to 10   -- the worst level -- if it continues to struggle to get the proper number of firefighters to emergency scenes. The higher ISO rating would result in huge increases in fire insurance costs for residents. It could possibly result in the loss of insurance coverage entirely.

The Guyton City Council will discuss the issue further during a special called meeting Thursday at 6 p.m.

If an agreement is reached, the county will lease the Guyton Fire Department's station and equipment, and also use its properly certified volunteers.