CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WSAV) — Chatham County may be getting its own fire department, according to a newly passed resolution.

Right now, a private company called Chatham Emergency Services handles calls in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The services they are providing now aren’t working, according to Chairman Chester Ellis. The reason they want to break away from Chatham Emergency Services’ debt from unpaid fire fees.

“We can’t continue to dig the financial hole that it is in. Before the county even got involved, [Chatham Emergency Services] was operating in a deficit. Now, the deficit has grown,” Ellis says.

While Chairman Chester Ellis has not personally looked at the financial records from Chatham Emergency Services, he says their debt continues to grow.

“When Chatham Emergency first came to us, they were $3 million dollars in debt. This was like a year and a half ago, maybe two. They were $3 million in the hole. That hole has only gotten deeper and wider, so we partnered with them to help them collect subscription fees,” Ellis says.

Chatham Emergency Services is a private company used to respond to fire calls in unincorporated Chatham County. The debt comes from residents not paying their “fire protection service fee,” which has been a controversial topic for some time.

The fee calculation was reworked about a year ago, and since then there has been objection from some in the community. One resident on Wilmington island says he has made two payments, but was unsure what exactly for.

His main concern with the fire services is response time.

“I hear that service is terrible,” Joe LaCognata says. “I’ve never had to call, but we do have an 86-year-old living with us. I’m hoping I don’t have to call because I’m told it takes them forever to get out here. If something happened, we would probably just end up putting her in a car and take her to the hospital or ourselves.”

Chairman Ellis says he understands the need for more fire coverage in the area.

“Because of the growth and the expansion of Chatham County, there are fire stations where the response time is too long. We would have to take a look at where fire stations need to be, especially with all the new buildings that’s going up with this new growth,” Ellis says.
It costs homeowners 14 cents per square foot for fire services. If a property does not have a structure on it, they are required to pay a $100 flat-rate fee.