Former fire chief says 24-hour department eventually needed

News
David Sellers

UPDATED

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – David Sellers, a former fire chief with Towns County Fire & Rescue, presented the history of the local fire department this week at the Towns County Courthouse, wrapping up the discussion with closing words for the public.

“We have full-time firefighters in Young Harris and Hiawassee, and they’re there for the day, Monday through Friday,” Sellers said. “But then on the weekends and at nighttime, the firefighters have to get up out of their beds, get their clothes on, get in their car, get to the fire station, and get a truck out and hope that some other firefighters are going to show up – which they will. But what we need eventually is full-time firefighters, 24-hours every single day so that there’s somebody there to bring that truck out whether it’s rescue or fire. So let’s hope the county can work on that, and one day we’ll have that soon.”

Sellers served as a firefighter for the City of Young Harris in the 1980s, which later incorporated the City of Hiawassee through a mutual aid contract. Towns County Fire Department was formed in 1985 with Sellers appointed as chief by former Commissioner Truman Barrett. Present-day Fire Chief Harold Copeland initially served as Sellers’ assistant chief. Copeland attended the courthouse presentation.

Towns County Fire Rescue

Local firefighters, circa 1960.

Click to view Towns County Fire & Rescue Activity Reports

Towns County Fire and Rescue consists of six fire stations strategically located throughout the jurisdiction. Volunteer firefighters are primarily assigned to the station located nearest their residence, paid-on-call in the event of emergencies. Volunteer firefighters are registered with the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council and must complete a live-fire training requirement to become Registered Volunteer Firefighters.

 

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Towns County Fire & Rescue awarded $310K grant

News
Chief Harold Copeland

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – An equipment grant of nearly $310,000 was awarded to Towns County Fire and Rescue to purchase “air packs” for local firefighters, essential gear in the first responders’ arsenal. Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland announced that the department received the news from FEMA Friday, Sept. 13. Towns County will match approximately $15,000 to the federal grant, bringing the total amount to an estimated $325,000 in funding.

Firefighters breathe compressed air when using a self-contained breathing apparatus. The cylinder is filled with air using a filter system to obtain the cleanest supply possible. A mask attachment has what is called a “demand valve” which delivers air into the mask during inhalation.

Towns County Fire Department

Towns County Fire Station 1 in Hiawassee.

“It’s what we breathe through,” Copeland said. “It’s what we put on our backs, the harness and the bottles. Back in 2005, we got our first grant for that, then it was about $160,000 to $180,000. So no different than Fords, Chevys, pick-up trucks, then and now, the cost has nearly doubled. And that amount is literally nearly two-thirds of our operating budget.”

Chief Copeland explained that the containers holding the firefighters’ air supply can only be “hydrotested” three times, adding that the department had “already run out of that.”

Towns County Fire and Rescue consists of six stations, storing four air packs per engine for emergency use. “We’re estatic, elated, and very happy,” Copeland said in response to the grant.

Appreciation was expressed to David McDonald,Field Represenative for U.S. Congressman Doug Collns, for assistance in securing the grant. McDonald attended the Sept. 17 courthouse meeting where the funding approval was announced.

 

Feature Image: Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland

 

Additional Towns County news

Public officials share positive outlook at “Eggs & Issues” breakfast

News
Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Chamber of Commerce hosted an annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, Wednesday, May 29, at Daniel’s Steakhouse in Hiawassee. A crowd of approximately 50 signed up to dine, buffet style, while listening to public leaders address community matters. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, and Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith were invited to meet with the citizens.

Commissioner Bradshaw opened the event by sharing that the county budget is in good health, with a $3.1 million reserve fixed in place. Due to past, excessive rainfall, construction efforts were needed in an area that caused a storage building to buckle at Foster Park in Young Hsrris, the commissioner reported, although taxpayers’ funds were minimal due to a generous contractor who offered assistance to lower costs. An insurance check in the amount of $23,000 was issued in response to the damage of the building. Bradshaw shared that sales taxes have increased by $28,000 from this time last year, a testimony to the booming business of local tourism. The commission said that he believes the city governments are in line with the county’s goals. “We don’t want to lose small town values, and small town feel,” Bradshaw stressed.

Liz Ordiales

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales welcomes guests to the event

Next to speak was Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales who, in part, addressed the city’s strategic plan, calling it a “driving force.” Ordiales said that the next project on the list is to make Lloyd’s Landing, where the boat ramp was located prior to Mayors’ Park, a “kid-friendly, fun, family area.” The mayor filled the diners in on the Friday movies and Saturday evening music summer series on Hiawassee Town Square, announcing that 250 music lovers attended opening night, Memorial Day weekend. “We all came here because we wanted a small town…” Mayor Ordiales reminded. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have every, single storefront filled? That’s my target.”

Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby promoted the city’s North Georgia Highlands Seafood Festival, scheduled for this weekend. Gibby addressed the anticipated road construction which will soon begin in western Towns County. “The construction process will be awful, but in the end I think it’s going to be very good for us,” the mayor assured. Gibby said that the citizens of Young Harris are in agreement as to how the development of the city unfolds, saying the residents strive for a “community and sense of belonging,” adding that “eveyone seems to want a village.”

Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton spoke on the security at the courthouse, detention center procedures, and the recently completed mass “Operation Trial Run” drug round-ups, which landed 53 arrests and over $300,000 in monetary and property seizures. The sheriff noted the local C.H.A.M.P.S. program, the importance of accountabilty in reference to drug court, and praised the volunteer efforts of the Citizen Law Enforcement Academy (CLEA) graduates. Clinton divulged that the inmates currently housed at the Towns County Detention Center are all repeat offenders. “I think we need less laws, and put the teeth back in the laws.” Sheriff Clinton said, referring to himself as “compassionate” and “a results, goal-orientated, type person.”

Chris Clinton - Sheriff

Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton at Wednesday morning’s discussion

“We haven’t had the best history of sheriff’s in the past,” Clinton said, calling the statement an “historical fact.” The county’s chief officer informed that he does not see his detractors in attendance at community events, such as the sheriff’s office fundraisers, while adding, “I don’t think any of us are claiming to be perfect. I’m certainly not.” Sheriff Clinton concluded with praise for the department’s deputies and their retention record. “We haven’t had a single patrol officer in over two years go anywhere.”

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith wrapped up the forum, relaying that he is one of five officers on the city department. “I still work the roads. I still answer calls,”Smith said, noting that having a recently-added fifth officer allows time to tend to administrative duties. Smith stressed the importance of justice and service to the community, and expressed gratitude for two patrol vehicles which were donated by the local Lions Club and a Florida poice division. The chief touched on the annual “Shop with a Hero” program which provides holiday gifts for financially challenged children in Towns County.

In attendance was Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland who warned of wildfire dangers, and asked the community to kindly pull to the shoulder of the roadway when emergency vehicles approach, with lights flashing and sirens sounding. Copeland additionally serves as the county coroner, and mentioned the importance of carrying identification with information on next of kin, along with predetermining a preference of funeral homes.

Overall, the theme of the event was overwhelming positive from the public officials involved, and in terms of attendance, the Towns County Chamber of Commerce deemed the breakfast discussion a success.

 

Feature Image: Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, speaking to the citizens of Towns County

Man suffers head injury while trimming trees, east of Hiawassee

News
Towns County Fire Rescue

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A man, believed to be in his 40s, suffered a serious head injury earlier this afternoon, Tuesday, Feb. 26, after falling from a 15-foot ladder while trimming trees. The accident occurred on Taylor Road, east of Hiawassee.

FYN obtained information from Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland at the Towns County Courthouse shortly before 3 p.m.

“He’s reported as in and out of conscientious at this time,” Chief Copeland said, adding that the man was actively sawing at the time of the incident.

A medical air flight was dispatched to transport the victim for treatment at a trauma center.

 

Fires destroy two homes in a single day

News
Towns county Fire Department

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Fire and Rescue responded to two separate structure fires on Tuesday, April 3, 2018.

The first structure fire occurred at approximately 1 p.m. at a residence located on Owl Creek Road. A female occupant was able to escape without harm after being alerted of the blaze by her barking dog.

Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland told FetchYourNews (FYN) that Station 5 responders were on scene within minutes of being dispatched.

“The scene was quickly sized up, and a propane tank on the premises was immediately secured,” Chief Copeland explained. “The fire began in the right rear corner of the home, in the master bedroom, master bathroom area.”

Towns County GA fire depattment

Residence on Owl Creek Road.

Tanker 1, Engine 5, and Engine 6 responded on scene.

The second structure fire occurred at approximately 7 p.m. at a residence on Glen Road. The homeowners saw smoke as they returned for the evening and dialed 911.

Tanker 1, Engine 1, and Engine 6 were dispatched.

The cause of the fires are undetermined at this time.

Sadly, family pets perished in both incidents from smoke inhalation.

Chief Copeland told FYN the homeowner of the residence on Owl Creek Road was able to break a window, however, and save the dog who alerted the occupant.

 

Featured Photo: Residence on Glen Road.

 

Resort evacuated overnight, Highway 75 south suffers erosion

News
Highway 75 South

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Heavy rainfall from subtropical storm Alberto resulted in the flooding of Enchanted Valley RV Resort, located off Highway 75 south, during the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Towns County first responders arrived on scene to assist in evacuation efforts. The mobile home park borders the Hiawassee River.

Towns County CodeRed emergency alert system began notifying residents of impending danger shortly before midnight Tuesday, May 29.

Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland told FetchYourNews he has never seen water rise to such levels so rapidly.

Enchanted Valley RV Resort

“The water was waist high in some areas, and I am 6 foot 3. I’ve never seen water run so fast,” Copeland said. “We cut off power as a safety precaution, and evacuated between ten to a dozen people.” Copeland said some residents were walked out while others were evacuated via a county vehicle. Approximately 30 residents were sheltered at Macedonia Baptist Church and Towns County Recreation Center overnight. Electricity was restored to the area at approximately 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, May 30.

Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) has reported that Highway 75 south, north of Helen, between Robertstown and Unicoi Gap, is currently closed to traffic due to erosion from the recent rainfall.  Motorists are being diverted to a detoured route while road crews repair the damage.

Abundant moisture will remain across the area today with periods of showers and thunderstorms. Additional rainfall of one to 1.5 inches is expected, with higher amounts in localized areas. Some of these amounts could fall within a short period of time. Creek and river levels are already above average, and it will not take much additional rainfall to cause levels to rise above bank height. High waters may not recede until well after the rain has ended. A flood watch remains in effect until further notice.

 

 

[Feature photo: Highway 76 south, credit Georgia DOT]

[Enchanted Valley RV Park, credit Ella Whelchel]

 

Questions surface after school lock-down drill

News

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – On the morning of Wednesday, March 14, a lock-down training exercise took place at Towns County School at 10 a.m.

While there was a call for a nationwide walk-out in remembrance of the 17 lives lost Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many schools across the nation chose a proactive approach.

FetchYourNews (FYN) learned of the drill and hoped to highlight the positive measures taken.

In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, FYN has reported on the subject of school safety in Towns, Gilmer, Fannin, UnionLumpkin, and Dawson County, Georgia, as well as Cherokee County, North Carolina.

While the ultimate safety of students is not being called into question, with FYN maintaining conviction that security is of the utmost concern for Towns County School administrators and Towns County first responders alike, unexpected questions arose during our research.

Towns County GA lockdown drill

Letter sent to the parents of elementary school students

In a letter forwarded to FYN, dated March 13, 2018, and signed by Towns County Elementary Principal Dr. Sandra Page, parents of elementary school children were advised a day in advance that the drill would occur. The letter reads, in part, that “during an active shooter drill, it is necessary to reenact the scenario of a shooter on campus in order to find strengths and possible weaknesses in our emergency plans.”

The letter goes on to state that “local agencies such as the police, EMS (emergency medical services), and the fire department will be involved in this drill and will be arriving on campus.”

Following an unsuccessful, in-person attempt to acquire sufficient information on the active shooter drill from the Towns County Sheriff’s courthouse office, FYN contacted the emergency agencies listed as participants in the training exercise.

FYN was surprised to learn that the Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Towns County Fire and Rescue, as well as the Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) were not notified that a drill was scheduled, and therefore did not participate.

At a Movers and Shakers meeting held Feb. 23, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, along with Towns County School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong, spoke with concerned citizens regarding school safety. The sheriff divulged that a few years had passed since an active shooter drill was conducted.

Sheriff Clinton opened his speech by recalling a recent conversation with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith.

“The chief and I were just discussing this, what, a week ago maybe, that it’s about time that we do another one, and that we do it together,” Sheriff Clinton assured.

Sheriff Clinton continued, “How do we make our children safer? Now. Not some place down the road at some philosophical perfect normal for you, but right now. How do we do that? Frankly, at the end of the day, we have to make it a harder target.”

After referencing the 1999 Columbine tragedy, Sheriff Clinton asked, “What’s been done by the government to make our children safer? Not a single thing. Because a lot of people think they can get up and talk about it, and they can harp on whatever their pet issue is. I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-gun, whatever, but as long as they’re talking about it and people are listening, they are getting political mileage out of it, and they really don’t care. I’m sorry, but I care.

“I’m coming to silence the gun. I’m not coming to survive it. I’m coming to silence the gun,” Sheriff Clinton emphasized. “Frankly, that’s what I expect from every deputy sheriff and every law enforcement officer in this nation. God help me if I have to walk past my own children while they bleed. I’m coming to silence the gun.”

At the conclusion of the forum, Sheriff Clinton acknowledged a need to ensure all first responders are familiar with the school’s campus and lock-down procedure. The sheriff told those in attendance that it is up to the community to decide what level of security they want in place. “I work for you,” Sheriff Clinton reminded.

FYN contacted Sheriff Chris Clinton on the evening of the lock-down in anticipation of learning why his plans to include other emergency agencies had changed.

Sheriff Clinton failed to provide an explanation, focusing rather on garnering the individual identities of FYN’s sources. Shortly after asked if proper protocol was followed, a concern brought to the attention of FYN by an emergency official, Sheriff Clinton ended communication.

The following day, Thursday, March 15, FYN Chief Executive Officer Brian Pritchard sat down with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland, reconfirming the lack of communication and coordination.

FYN met with Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong on Friday, March 16, in search of further clarification.

Berrong revealed that the active shooter drill was implemented between himself and Sheriff Clinton, following the Movers and Shakers forum.

When the question was posed concerning the absence of agencies, Berrong replied, “Well, (the school) wasn’t sure of everyone who was involved. I think there were some of those individuals there.” Upon learning that was not the case, Berrong stated there may have been a miscommunication in verbiage, saying, “Personally, for me, it wasn’t about the fire department. It was about the police officers.”

Berrong was then asked to recap the drill.

“At 10:00, Mr. Perren came over the announcement through all three schools and informed them we were going into a lock-down, that there would be police officers walking through the hallways, make sure to keep your doors locked, and to keep the kids in a safe area,” Superintendent Berrong explained. “While that was going on, police officers were making their rounds through the building, just to make sure they were still familiar with what the campus actually looks like, what’s going on during a lock-down, where can you go and where can’t you go in case there is a shooter in the school, and what areas can we access. They made their rounds through the school while we were in lock-down. We were in lock-down probably ten minutes. Our school isn’t a very big building, you can make a round through there fairly quickly. So ten to fifteen minutes, and pretty much that was the end of the drill.”

FYN inquired if there are plans to hold a subsequent active shooter exercise. “We may have further drills. We don’t have any planned currently,” Dr. Berrong said. “Sheriff Clinton and I are in discussion about this summer, getting together with all personnel, fire department and everyone, just to sit down and make sure everyone has plans of the school building, and make sure everyone has access to the ‘Crisis Go’ app, which alerts people when there is an emergency on campus, and just have another round-table discussion about what we are going to do when something like that happens, how do we shut the campus down. We had one of those several years ago, but it’s about time we had another one.”

FYN contacted Towns County School Facility Director Roy Perren. Director Perren relayed that the exercise was exclusively planned for the Towns County Sheriff’s Office and that there was never an intention to include other emergency agencies. The facility director added that a Towns County School meeting will be held in conjunction with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) April 13 concerning the involvement of all first responders, should an emergency situation arise.

Elementary School Principle Dr. Sandra Page returned FYN’s request for comment on the afternoon of Monday, March 19.

Page stated that to her knowledge, the active shooter exercise was changed to simply a lock-down drill on the morning of March 14, shortly before the training occurred, excluding the need for the involvement of  agencies other than the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. “I just wanted to get the information out so that students, parents, and teachers were aware that a drill was going to take place,” Dr. Page said. “That was my main concern.”

This left FYN with more questions than answers, considering that none of the emergency agencies listed in the letter had been notified that an active shooter drill had been scheduled.

Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County EMS, Towns County Fire and Rescue, and Towns County EMA state that their departments expect to take part in future training exercises.

 

 

 

 

Towns County Fire and Rescue quells two Hiawassee fires

News
Towns County Fire

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Fire and Rescue is geared for another flame-fighting season as the colder weather poses a heightened risk for activity. The department responded to two calls in less than a week: a brush fire and a structure fire.

The brush fire occurred on Nov. 16 at 4626 Hiawassee River Estates. The call was dispatched at 3:11 p.m. Tanker 1 and Rescue 5 responded to a burn pile gone astray. The fire advanced within 10 to 15 yards of a structure, according to Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland. Firefighters executed a swift knockdown of the wind-driven flames, protecting the structure and extinguishing hot-spots.

“This is a classic concern I have,” Chief Copeland told Fetch Your News. “There is danger in burning brush at the base of hills. The chimney effect causes it to follow an uphill path, rapidly advancing. It’s crucial to only burn brush in a level, open area.”

The second incident occurred on the morning of Nov. 20, and the emergency tone was dispatched at 5:51 a.m.

Tanker 2 and Engine 2 responded to a structure fire at 7741 King Cove Road. Warne Fire Department supplied mutual aid. The fire was quickly contained and suppressed. A wood burning stove was determined the cause, originating in the living room area.

Chief Copeland relayed the crews did “an excellent job, saving clothes, pictures and other personal items contained within the home.”

Featured Image: November 2016 fire in Tate City, Ga.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

 

Ongoing Investigation: Truck crashes into Lake Chatuge

News
truck lake chatuge

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County emergency responders rushed to the scene of a reported overturned truck spotted in Lake Chatuge near the Macedonia bridge as dawn broke the morning of Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Emergency crews spotted the vehicle at the water’s edge beside the “Park and Ride” pull-off. It appears the truck was traveling west on Highway 76, toward Hiawassee, when it exited the roadway, plummeting down the embankment into the lake below. There were no occupants in the vehicle when emergency personnel arrived on scene.

Towns County Fire and Rescue Chief Harold Copeland tells FetchYourNews that the dive team responded in the event rescue efforts were needed.

“The dive team swept the lake in a grid fashion, using sonar,” Chief Copeland said. “The rear window of the truck was broken, so there were concerns someone may be in the water, but no one was located.”

There are unconfirmed reports from outside sources who claim the vehicle was stopped by law enforcement in Rabun County shortly after 1 a.m. on the same morning the truck was discovered in Lake Chatuge. Towns County Sheriff’s Office is unable to confirm the report due to the fact the incident is currently under investigation. Several sources tell FetchYourNews that the driver of the vehicle has not been located at the time of publication.

Follow FetchYourNews for updated information as it becomes available.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Towns, Union, Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, and Murray counties, as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 on our Facebook page. 

For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

 

Towns County Fire and Rescue conducts training exercise

News
Towns County Fire Rescue

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Fire and Rescue conducted an exercise at the former Recreation Center in Hiawassee on Monday, Oct. 1. The drill included a high-rise rescue training, fire suppression techniques with attack lines, and a “Mayday” scenario simulating a downed firefighter. Ladder 6, Engine 1 and 2, and Tanker 1 and 2 were on scene. Dozens of firefighters and support staff participated in the drill.

“It went very well,” Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland said, “I’m very proud of the job the crews did. We have station meetings monthly, with county-wide meetings at the end of each month, and this exercise corresponded with the subject matter.”

Towns County Fire and Rescue

Towns County Fire and Rescue, Engine 1

Towns County Fire and Rescue consists of six stations strategically located throughout the county. Station 1 in Hiawassee, and Station 2 in Young Harris, are manned weekdays during business hours throughout the year. Towns County, however, relies on a dedicated team of volunteer firefighters whom respond to calls of distress day or night.

Towns County Fire and Rescue Activity Report

Incident Report, News
Towns County Fire Department

Towns County Fire and Rescue Incident Report –

5/21/18 – 6/3/18

 

5/21

  • Medical Assist – 1
  • Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) – 1

5/22

  • Medical Assist – 3
  • Fire Alarm – 1

5/23

  • Medical Assist – 3

5/24

  • Medical Assist – 3
  • MVA – 2

5/25

  • Medical Assist – 2
  • Public Service – 1

5/26

  • Medical Assist – 1
  • Public Service – 1

5/27

  • Medical Assist – 3
  • Propane Leak – 1

5/28

  • Medical Assist – 7
  • Fire Alarm – 1
  • Assist Other Agency – 1

5/29

  • Medical Assist – 1
  • MVA – 1
  • Power Line Down – 1

5/30

  • Medical Assist – 6
  • Flood Evacuation – 1
  • Fire Alarm – 1

5/31

  • Medical Assist – 2
  • MVA – 1
  • Controlled Burn – 1

6/1

  • Medical Assist – 1
  • MVA – 2
  • Public Service – 1

6/2

  • Medical Assist – 1
  • Search for Missing Person – 1

6/3

  • Medical Assist – 2
  • MVA – 1
  • Controlled Burn – 1

 

 

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