Richmond Hill Fire Department firefighters have been working with outdated air bottles — most dating back more than a decade, new fire Chief Ralph Catlett told City Council members at last week’s meeting.
The bottles, or tanks, are part of “air packs” that provide oxygen to firefighters when they’re battling fires.
“Most are from 1992, one is from 1997. They should be at least 2007, 2013. The bottles we have now are not compliant,” Catlett told the council. “All this was discovered after a 30-day evaluation of equipment.”
Catlett and City Manager Chris Lovell presented the information during the council’s March 18 meeting, asking for a budget amendment for an additional $50,000 to help buy 20 new air tanks.
The council approved the measure after some discussion, and Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler noted it was a matter of firefighter safety.
“We can’t send firemen into a fire without these tanks,” he said. “We have the money.”
Catlett said he was awaiting evaluations of air packs by his firefighters before deciding which type to purchase, adding that he is looking for ways to cut expenses.
The department will also look to regularly replace the air tanks at scheduled intervals, and Catlett said he is inquiring into grants to help defray some costs.
Additional money for new air packs was one of three spending plans agreed to by the council — though one won’t take affect until next year and the council’s action was more a vote of support for Catlett, whom Lovell said was hired to “get this place in shape.”
Earlier in the meeting, Lovell said, “You can tell we didn’t do much spending in the fire department.”
Richmond Hill’s fire department budget for 2013 was about $683,000, which covered 11 firefighters at two stations.
Renovations at Station 1 also were discussed, with the council agreeing to add an additional $150,000 to the $90,000 it’s invested in revitalizing the old station on Ford Avenue.
When the work is finished, RHFD will base one rescue truck and fire engine there with two full-time firefighters and leave the department’s ladder truck and another engine at Station 2 off Timber Trail, which is where Bryan County EMS will also have an ambulance, Catlett said.
The $150,000 will bring the total cost of renovations to about $240,000, council members were told — that’s down from projections of $1.8 million to build a new station.
“A year and a half ago we were looking at spending $1.8 million as opposed to now spending $240,000,” council member Russ Carpenter said. “That’s a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, but we can easily better afford that. And it’s got to be done.”
“If we want to keep our ISO rating at a 4, we’ve got to have two fire stations and we have two-man two fire stations,” he said.
A third measure discussed at the March 18 meeting involved personnel, and the council voted to support Catlett’s changes to department structure.
Among those changes are doing away with the assistant chief’s position and replacing it with a fire marshal, promoting two veteran firefighters in the department to lieutenant and adding two more firefighters.
The promotions will take affect this year. And the fire marshal and additional firemen will be added in 2015, which will increase the fire department’s budget about $100,000 next year, Lovell said.
Read more in the March 26 edition of the News.