School crossing

A firefighter directs traffic on May 7 as students cross Highmarket Street at Lafayette Street in Georgetown. City of Georgetown firefighters set up the crossing in the morning and afternoon each school day, but the extra work comes at a price. 

It costs the city of Georgetown Fire Department thousands of dollars annually to provide personnel to act as crossing guards for students walking to and from Georgetown High and Middle schools.

Each school day, in the morning and afternoon, the Fire Department stations a fire engine and three firefighters on Highmarket Street at Lafayette Street to act as crossing guards for students. During a workshop in late April, Fire Chief Charlie Cribb told City Council the service costs the city $15,000 a year in man hours. 

The department has been providing the service since the early 1990s, and the Highmarket location is currently the only site firefighters station as crossing guards. But due to staff shortages and higher call volumes for emergency service, firefighters are frequently having to leave the crossing site earlier than scheduled to handle calls, meaning more and more children are crossing the busy street unguided. 

Some days, firefighters don't make it to the intersection at all because they're handling one or multiple emergencies -- Georgetown Police try to fill in when firefighters aren't available. For the current school year, Cribb said, firefighters haven't gone or have had to leave the crossing site early nearly 70 times. 

While on site, firefighters leave the truck running in case they have to respond to a call. This adds up to around $4,000 a year in fuel costs, Cribb told council. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that the county's school district doesn't reimburse the city for the service. 

Cribb said his department is glad to do the job, but the current situation causes problems.

"We're not trying to get out of this, it's just a hindrance," he said.

The job is inherently dangerous, Cribb said, as traffic on Highmarket Street is heavy in the morning -- firefighters stage the crossing at 7:10 a.m. each day -- and in the afternoon. Cars coming into the city are often slowing down from speeds around 60 mph.

There is no traffic signal at Highmarket and Lafayette in front of the Georgetown Police Department, and there are no markings on the road to designate the crossing area. Installing a traffic light at the intersection would require approval by the state Department of Transportation.

The fire engine with its lights flashing acts as an alert to drivers, Cribb said, but it doesn't always work. He played a video from the fire truck's dash cam showing a pickup swerving to avoid smashing into a car waiting for students to cross the road. The pickup went off the road to avoid the wreck. 

Cribb said firefighters have been "skimmed" by side mirrors. 

City officials are hoping to work with the school district to find a solution to the problem before the start of next school year.

The school district has crossing guards for the roads immediately around the schools. Before the Fire Department, a city employee served as a crossing guard at the Highmarket Street location. Council members said funding a part-time position for the role could be a possibility.

"We have to have someone there to help those kids," Mayor Brendon Barber said. "We have to figure something ... even if we get together and work with the school district to come up with a plan ..."

Councilman Al Joseph said, "Whatever we decide to do, it needs to be shared between us and the school district."