Walker County residents are already experiencing an improvement in emergency services following a recent realignment of public safety resources.
Walker County increased the number of 24/7/365 fire stations from 4 to 6 on Oct. 1. Existing staff and equipment were relocated to enhance services in the Villanow, Cane Creek and Kensington communities.
In October, firefighters at Station 14 saved more than 13 minutes responding to calls in Villanow, while the average response time from Station 15 in Cane Creek was nearly cut in half.
Walker County Emergency Services Chief Blake Hodge said, "This is a drastic improvement in our department's response times. Considering a fire doubles in size every minute and irreversible brain damage can occur within four to six minutes, response times are critical."
Station 14 in Villanow posted an 8:42 mark in October, significantly improving on the previous average response time of 22:10. Station 15 in Cane Creek established a response of 6:18 in October, compared to its previous average of 12:33.
"Currently, there are no ambulances stationed near Villanow. The closest is 12 miles away in LaFayette. We're now arriving approximately ten minutes before an ambulance to provide initial patient care," added Hodge.
Station 20, near Highway 136 and Cove Road, had not been staffed by career or volunteer firefighters prior to Oct. 1. Initial data shows an average response time of 9:06.
Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield pointed out, "This is all being done with less funding. The fire department's budget was cut by $50,000 compared to what was spent in 2016. I commend Chief Hodge and his team for finding new methods to better manage taxpayer money."
The realignment followed the successful transition of Station 2 in Flintstone in July to a 24/7/365 operation. The county's other full-time fire stations are in Rock Spring and Chickamauga.
Walker County also plans to focus on developing automatic aid agreements with neighboring jurisdictions to further strengthen response times and improve services.