Changes in coverage area proposed for SW Chilton

Published 11:06 pm Saturday, August 16, 2008

Plantersville Fire Department may become the primary responder to several residents in extreme south Chilton County who would normally fall under South Chilton Fire Department’s coverage area.

The change would take effect as soon as a new radio repeater tower is up and running in the area.

A key issue among residents is ISO ratings, which directly affect homeowner’s insurance premiums. Both fire departments have a rating of 6/9, with the “6” applying to areas within five miles of the department and “9” applying to areas lying outside the 5-mile radius.

The lower the number, the lower the rating, and hence the lower insurance premium depending on each individual household. In the case of Plantersville and South Chilton, however, the coverage areas overlap.

Because the households in question are within five miles of Plantersville Fire Department but in some cases nearly nine miles from South Chilton, the proposed change seems to make sense. Only one problem: Plantersville lies just inside Dallas County, which means their communications equipment is not compatible with Chilton County E-911.

Before ISO will recognize Plantersville as the primary department for the area, Plantersville must have the capability of being dispatched to structure fires by Chilton County E-911. Currently, this can only be done by Dallas County E-911 relaying all calls to Plantersville.

The new radio repeater tower will help bridge the communication gap.

“We have in the past caught 100 percent of calls that have been dispatched to South Chilton,” said South Chilton Fire Chief Donald Davis. “Hopefully residents in that area will be as satisfied with the service from Plantersville as they were with us.”

Davis met with Plantersville Fire Chief Mark Walker at a recent Chilton County E-911 Board meeting, and the two chiefs agreed to the change.

Walker called it “a relief” for the departments to reach a compromise. The chiefs seemed eager to assist one another on calls whenever needed.

“If there is a good working relationship between two counties, it makes it so much easier on the emergency scene,” Walker said.

The chiefs met at the request of the Chilton County Commission. Commission chairman Allen Caton was present at the meeting and was pleased with the result.

“It was a very productive meeting,” Caton said. “Both chiefs were willing to work together to work this situation out.”

A public meeting on the issue initially scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 19 has been cancelled due to the agreement.

This announcement came as somewhat of a surprise to Chilton Fire/EMS Association president Dan Wright, who is not in agreement with the proposal due to the way Chilton County’s fire departments are funded.

Wright questioned how Plantersville would work out the fact that rural Chilton residents pay a fire tax to departments within Chilton County.

“Our goal is to serve the citizens in their need, but I’m just concerned that this is a hasty decision that may have unforeseen consequences,” Wright said.

For those in need of a timeframe, it will be an estimated 60 to 90 days before the tower is up and running. It will stand near the intersection of U.S. Highway 82 and Alabama Highway 183.

Plantersville has invested in VHF equipment in order to make the transition (Dallas County is on a UHF frequency). They will intercept any additional charges incurred to make the department compatible.

“With us taking up the coverage, people should still be able to enjoy the 6 rating,” Walker said.

If the switch goes as planned, specific areas affected will be announced at a later date.

– Scott Mims can be reached at