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Officials spar over response to local fires

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Officials argued in court Tuesday whether Gwinnett firefighters should respond in the city of Loganville, which has its own force.

But during testimony, county Fire Chief Bill Myers said stopping at the city limits would put firefighters in a bad position.

The issue is one of several debated before a judge this week in a lawsuit between Gwinnett County and its 15 cities over service.

While 14 of the local cities rely on Gwinnett's fire department, Loganville has its own, and until several years ago taxpayers in the city were not included in the county fire district.

Myers said his department has always responded to Loganville incidents, and because the county is the sole emergency medical services provider, it would have to respond to any medical calls, often with both a fire engine and an ambulance.

Earlier this year, the county department responded along with Loganville firefighters to two house fires within the city limits. While the county has a minimum of 18 firefighters and supervisors responding to every structure fire, the city fire department has only seven people on duty at any one time, Gwinnett Battalion Chief Mark O'Connor said in testimony.

"The citizens there, as well as the rest of the county, deserve the highest quality service we can provide," Myers said in court. "It's not about faster. It's about faster with the appropriate resources."

Also testifying Tuesday were Gwinnett County Administrator Glenn Stephens, Acting Water Resources Director Lynn Smarr and Deputy Finance Director Maria Woods.

The trial is expected to resume today and could last for two weeks.