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Fire fighters, dive team adjust to drought's impact

Water supplies OK for now, Gainesville fire marshal says

POSTED: October 31, 2007 5:07 a.m.

GAINESVILLE -- The drought has changed the dynamic of emergency services, but it has yet to threaten any agency's ability to serve the public, officials say.

Gainesville Fire Marshal Jerome Yarborough said there is sufficient water for the fire department to do its job right now.

"If the drought increases, we will have to meet with public utilities and see about the capabilities," Yarborough said. "But this area has always had great water.

"I don't think we're in a critical stage as far as fire fighting."

Horace Gee, environmental services administrator for Gainesville, said the city utilities department has not made a plan to save water for fighting fires because Gainesville's water supply is not yet in that dire of a situation.

"We're in the best shape of any utility, really anywhere north of Macon," Gee said. "Everybody else would be out of water a long time before we would be out."

Gee said Gainesville has about six months more water supply than any other municipality in the area. However, the department still is taking measures to conserve water. For now, Gainesville Fire Department has put its annual hydrant flow tests on hold during the era of water restrictions.

However, the department normally does the flow check, which measures hydrants' water pressure, in the spring during the first phase of tests on all the city's 1,950 hydrants, Commander Debbie Truelove said. As of this spring, the drought had not affected the hydrants' water flow, she said.

On Thursday, the Gainesville Fire Department suspended washing trucks unless the grime becomes a problem and threatens the operation of its moving parts, Capt. Jon Canada said. He is the department's interim battalion chief.

Fire department employees inspect the engines daily to make sure dirt is not becoming a safety hazard, Canada said.

"They're a very expensive piece of equipment," Canada said. "Their readiness is extremely important to us; everything has to work on them."

But the image of the red fire engine is no longer a concern to the department.

"As far as the truck being nice and shiny like we always like to keep them, we have actually took a stance to do our part ... to conserve water," Canada said.

The department wants to be an example for public water conservation, Canada said. "It has to start with us, with the government, to set that example," Canada said.

The drought may have made for an easier job for the Hall County Sheriff's department dive team.
Major Jeff Strickland said having to relocate the dive boat has been the only problem the Hall County Underwater Search and Rescue Team has encountered during the drought.

"We've had to move our dive boat several times at the marina to keep it where it is accessible to the lake," Strickland said.

The sheriff's department has also had to move its main patrol boat, and the marine patrol has to be more aware now that the lake is lower.

"Our patrolmen on there really have to be vigilant now, because as the lake has rescinded there are a lot more obstacles in the water so they have to be a lot more careful," Strickland said.

Strickland said the low level of Lake Lanier did not hinder the dive team in bringing its equipment to the last drowning at Van Pugh Park, and in fact allowed the team to drive its equipment across the sand to the water.

"We were able to use our four-wheel drive vehicles and drive across the beach directly to the area that once would have only been accessed by boat," Strickland said.

But the dive team's job is dangerous, drought or no drought.

"Diving is very dangerous no matter what the level of the lake is," Strickland said.

"What's on the bottom now is on the bottom no matter what the depth is, so we have to deal with the trees and with the barbed wire and debris really no matter what."



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