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Guyton ponders public safety
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A proposal for a public safety department found a receptive audience with the Guyton City Council.

Police Chief Randy Alexander has put forth the idea of merging the police and fire departments into a public safety department.

“This department is only two and a half years old,” he said. “Now is the time, I thought, to bring this to the city council. All the officers are first responders anyway.”

Alexander e-mailed and visited other cities that have created a public safety department, including Grovetown, an Augusta suburb in Columbia County.

Grovetown’s population, according to the latest Census estimates, is 8,139, and the city began its public safety department 14 years ago. Grovetown public safety director Al Robinson said Guyton has to make sure everybody, from the police and fire departments to the city council to the residents have to be behind the effort in order for it to work.

Robinson said all his police officers are cross trained as firefighters and nearly all the firefighters in the town’s volunteer department have been trained as police officers. The training can run up expenses, but Robinson said the cost can be alleviated by starting small and building up to the goal of a fully cross-trained public safety department.

One of the first problems when Grovetown adopted the public safety department was the existing fire and police chiefs butted heads, Robinson said.

“The concept made their jobs a lot easier,” he said. “Once they worked their differences out, it worked for the city.”
Alexander said all his police officers are behind the idea and all but one volunteer firefighter has endorsed it.

“The fire chief (David Starling) and I are both on board,” he said. “We’re already ahead of the game on qualified personnel.”

Guyton Police Capt. Kenny McDonald is a firefighter and an arson investigator, and Sgt. Gary Jarriel also has firefighting training. During a recent trailer fire, McDonald was able to get into his turnout gear in two minutes, and firefighters were able to save the trailer.

“To save a trailer in a fire is pretty good,” Alexander said.

Grovetown Police Capt. Garry Owens said when he first joined the department, there were six officers. After he left and returned, there were 42 officers in its ranks.

“I feel they are more adept to respond as firefighters,” he said. “That police officer has the ability to assist the firefighters, and that is a major benefit.”

Said Grovetown Fire Capt. Wayne Kent: “It’s worked out really good. It’s really beneficial.”

Robinson and Alexander said most police officers are relegated to controlling traffic at fires and other emergencies. But as cross-trained members of a public safety department, they can be called upon to do more and do it quickly.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, a police officer is the first one on the scene,” Alexander said. “I’ve been on calls where I couldn’t do anything because I wasn’t trained. I don’t want you to see a police officer standing there when your house is on fire or when you have a friend goes into cardiac arrest.”

Walton County’s Social Circle, with a population of 4,354, also sought Grovetown’s help in establishing a public safety department. Social Circle hadn’t had a police department since 1973 and was paying the Walton County Sheriff’s Department several thousand dollars for a deputy, Robinson said.

“It’s worked real good there,” he said.

Robinson also said there are grants available for cities with public safety departments.

Guyton plans on buying six automated external defibrillators for its emergency personnel, Alderman Les Pevey said.

“Minutes count,” Alexander said. “When you’re waiting on an ambulance, every minute means life or death."