TIFTON -- The various local governments in Tift County came together Tuesday and consolidated the fire services for the county at a special joint called meeting. The cities of Omega and Ty Ty joined Tifton and Tift County in a fire service agreement, and will now all be part of the Tifton-Tift County Fire Department.

"We'd all be one, but we'd still keep our uniqueness," said Chief Mike Flippo of the fire department.

Although all the fire departments will now work together under the same name, individual stations will keep unique names, such as "Ty Ty Station."

"What we're after is something that brings us together, but maintains our identity," said Rob Reinhardt, county attorney.

The city councils for both Ty Ty and Omega unanimously passed the resolution to join the agreement, which brought applause from those who attended the meeting. The agreement allows fire stations throughout the county to share resources, information and personnel, towards the goal of better fire protection for the communities.

Another resolution passed by the three cities represented at the meeting makes all of Tift County part of the WaterFirst Community Program. The county commissioners had earlier approved joining the group, which aims both to help the environment and to provide the best water-related facilities within a community.

The most immediate benefit of this program is that it could reduce the interest on loans from the State of Georgia for water-related projects. However, another benefit would be that it would better prepare Tift County for the political and legal wars over water that could erupt over the next few decades.

"It's vital that we can position ourselves as best we can," said Joe Lewis, vice mayor of Tifton. "As that arena grows and we are caught in the battle, it will be a large battle."

By joining WaterFirst, the governments hope that the program will give the county a better standing against the counties from North Georgia, who are most likely to need water in the future.

The WaterFirst application forms are due Nov. 5. Tifton, Ty Ty and Omega all passed the resolution to join unanimously.

A resolution for an animal control agreement was accepted by three of the four governments at the meeting, with Ty Ty's council not voting until its members could read the resolution. The agreement consolidates animal control ordinances for all four entities, allowing for animal control officials to have more authority and leeway in their actions.

As it stands, each area has separate and sometimes conflicting ordinances with respect to the handling of animal nuisances or attacks.

"That was just totally unworkable," said Tifton city council member Dave Hetzel.

Tifton, Omega and Tift County passed the resolution unanimously, with a stipulation that the ordinances could be modified slightly by Reinhardt at his discretion, based on any changes Ty Ty requested. Ty Ty officials had not had a chance to read the lengthy documents before the meeting Tuesday.

Prior to the meeting, the Tifton-Tift County Fire Department showed their new Hazardous Materials Response Unit truck to the gathered officials. The truck, which cost more than $200,000, was paid for primarily by Federal Emergency Management Agency and Georgia Emergency Management Agency funds.

The truck would be used in any situation in which a hazardous material endangers the public. The truck and its crew could decontaminate hundreds of people while also coordinating clean-up and rescue efforts from the mobile command center inside. The truck is stocked with testing supplies, cleaning tents, oxygen tanks, communications equipment and hazardous materials protective suits.

Although stationed in Tifton, the truck is responsible for the protection of 22 counties.

"There's a possibility this thing would go anywhere in the United States, if it's called for," said Lt. Tim Cooper, hazardous materials coordinator for the fire department.



To contact reporter Dusty Vassey, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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