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Barrow ambulance, paramedics to move downtown temporarily

WINDER - An ambulance will move downtown temporarily while Barrow County builds two new fire stations.

The unit, which will come from the Holsenbeck station, will be housed at the old Duckhead facility on Athens Street once Winder completes renovations on a planned apartment that would house the paramedics.

Winder Mayor Buddy Ouzts said the apartment, which has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a sitting area, is underneath an area being renovated for the Winder-Barrow Community Theatre. Commission Chairman Doug Garrison said Tuesday that a 2-inch water main had burst during construction on that project Friday and would delay the work.

While fire service is provided to Winder by the city's Fire Department, the county provided ambulance service. Some Winder residents were concerned that no ambulance was housed within Winder's city limits.

The Holsenbeck medical unit and fire truck will be housed downtown while that fire station is torn down and rebuilt. Another fire station, near the old County Line school, will be built in about two years, Garrison said, bringing a permanent ambulance presence to the city.

As it stands, ambulances from the two closest county fire stations respond to any calls within the city limits - and within the county.

Fire Chief Mitch Kitchens said at a commission meeting Tuesday that some response times would increase because of the ambulance's move, while others would decrease based on its proximity to downtown. The longest response time, he said, would be no more than three or four minutes.

County Chief of Operations Keith Lee said the septic tank at the Holsenbeck station had degraded and sewage was leaking back into the building, making it unsafe for personnel. Deputy Administrator Michael Fischer said mold had also been found in the building and the station had poor air quality.

The problems resulted from the full-time use of a building that was designed as a part-time facility, he said. Washing and drying of clothes meant there was more moisture in the air, and the station had a bad ventilation system.

Garrison said he did not know how long the ambulance will be downtown, but said a new fire station will keep it within the city limits even after the new Holsenbeck facility is built.

Commissioners voted 5-1 in favor of the proposal, with District 3 Commissioner Roger Wehunt opposed.