The county is searching for land roughly three miles farther north on Highway 140, in the Sam Nelson Road area, to replace Station 9, which has roots as Georgia’s first all-African American volunteer fire operation.
Fire Chief Tim Prather said Tuesday the county is also looking to replace Stations 1, 2 and 3, but Station 9 is the priority because it has been falling into a state of disrepair for some time and “nickeling and diming us to death.”
“We need to get those guys out of that station,” Prather said. “That wasn’t built for a fire station. It’s just constant maintenance problems.”
He said there are issues with flooding in the building, as well as septic tank problems and general discomfort because it wasn’t built to have firefighters living inside.
The station also sits too far away from some developments in the area, which can hurt residents’ insurance costs, he said.
Plans to replace the station have previously been put on hold because of talks with the city of Canton about consolidating the city’s fire department with the county’s. But County Manager Jerry Cooper said the time has come to move forward because of the issues with the building and its location.
The station began fire operations in 1978 as the North Canton Volunteer Fire Department, founded by late civic leader Charlie Ernest Ferguson, said former Commissioner Jim Hubbard, who has been active in volunteer firefighting for years. Before and after 1978, the station was known for its community room, which was a hub of activity, Hubbard said.
“I just remember that station being the center of the community activity,” Hubbard said Tuesday of the time before the county took over. “I remember seniors congregating there in the community room. Charlie Ferguson, I can remember him sitting out on the little deck and watching the traffic go by. (And they) flat out fought some fires, did a good job for the community.”
The fate of the building isn’t yet clear, as the North Canton Fire Department, which Prather said is no longer active in the station, still owns it. The former fire chief of the volunteer efforts, James Morris, said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the county’s plans to build a new station.
The station covers North Canton and Shoal Creek, along with other unincorporated county areas. It also regularly covers northern areas in the city of Canton, where the city is planning to build a new station in the coming months. Residents in the city have also relied on the ambulance based there.
Prather said, naturally, moving the station about three miles north will increase the response time to residents in Canton, though he wasn’t yet sure by how much.
“As the county fire chief, my obligation is to take care of the county citizens in that unincorporated area because they pay for it,” he said. But Prather added he planned to ask for another ambulance in the next budget, which would result in one being based at the Holly Springs station. That ambulance, which is contingent upon county approval, would also service Canton.
Four live-in firefighters are assigned to Station 9, which has one engine and the ambulance.
While the firefighters get the job done in the building, Prather said they could have a more comfortable space and one without the issues.
“They’re functioning. They’re not complaining. They’re glad to provide the service, but there’re times when they’re very inconvenienced; they’ve got to get up and deal with the water,” the chief said.
Sgt. Chris Brauda, who is assigned to the station, said he’s seen the issues over time.
“There have been some problems with water coming in on the foundation along this back wall here,” he said, at the station Tuesday. “Once you’ve been here a while, you kind of get used to the old girl.”
But when asked about the prospect of a new station, he said: “Who wouldn’t want to live in a new house?”