Meriwether County, Coweta’s neighbor to the south, is following Coweta’s lead when it comes to fire service.
Meriwether voters recently approved a fire district, which will levy a tax for fire protection. Coweta’s current county fire service is built on such a tax, approved by Cowetans decades ago.
“We plan to build eight new stations and renovate some others,” said Theron Gay, the current Meriwether County administrator and a former county administrator in Coweta.
“We will go from a volunteer department – except for a paid chief and a couple other positions – to a fully manned fire department, while continuing our volunteer program as well,” Gay said. The firefighters will also serve in the role of first responders for medical and accident calls.
Gay said Meriwether will employ about 25 positions. Two new fire trucks have also been ordered.
The stations will be located in Luthersville, Lone Oak, Durand, Odessadale, Woodbury, Greenville, the Cove and Primrose. “We also plan to renovate the Alvaton station,” Gay said.
The county will also man the stations in Gay and Warm Springs. “Some of the current volunteer stations will remain in service as volunteer stations,” Gay said.
Luthersville abuts the Coweta County line, and Lone Oak and Alvaton are both just a few miles from Coweta.
“Most of us anticipate a lot of growth in this part of the county,” Meriwether Fire Chief Alfons Pynenburg said at the groundbreaking for the Lone Oak station on April 24.
Principal Williams was awarded the bid for the first phase of the project, which includes the Lone Oak, Luthersville, Durand and Odessadale stations.
Groundbreaking for those stations was held in recent weeks. The groundbreaking in Lone Oak brought together about 75 city and county residents and officials. “We’re proud to have all of this going on,” Lone Oak Mayor Philip Dow said. “It’s a big day for all of us.”
The town gave the land for the fire station, and Dow said the town has plans to refurbish a historic country store that is on the site, adjacent to the new fire station.
“I can’t think of a more exciting time for the county than right now,” Pynenburg said. Looking toward the future, he spoke of “the direction it’s heading and the things that are happening here.”
The building of the fire stations is “showing positive growth and movement in the right direction,” Pynenburg said. “We’re all ready to reap the rewards of this.”
Bill Gregory, Meriwether’s finance director, also spoke. He reflected on the early planning for the new fire station. That planning involved the previous mayor, Brian Ferrell, who died several months ago.
Gregory spoke of “the support he gave us” and praised the town’s backing of the project. “They were on board right off the bat,” he said.
At completion of that phase, the estimated cost of construction and equipment is approximately $4.5-$5 million. Operational costs will then be funded by fire district tax collections.
Leon Moody, president of Principle Williams, spoke in Lone Oak and said the station there is being built with two bays but with a design that can be expanded to three.
“All of the cities participated with us in the program except Manchester, which has their own fire department,” Gay said. “Manchester was very supportive of the program and will participate with us through mutual aid.”
Gay said it is hoped the program will help a majority of Meriwether’s residents see “an improvement in the ISO rating and thus a savings on homeowners insurance.”
Mary Bray, vice chairman of the Meriwether County Commission, presided at the Lone Oak groundbreaking. A prayer for safe construction and for firefighter safety was brought by Coweta resident Michael McFarlin, who is pastor of Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Lone Oak.