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      Lee County merger still a hot topic

      Earlier this year, Lee County Commissioners voted to consolidate their fire and EMS services as a way to improve emergency response times and reduce their ISO ratings, and on Tuesday the board received on update on how the merger is going.

      Skip Starling with the National Fire Services Office says the focus moving forward needs to be on three things: receiving as much training as possible, getting new substations and trying to reopen two buildings that were previously closed as the department struggled.

      "We had some stations, two of them that were closed a few years back and we're needing to get those stations and we're in the process of doing that now, reopening those stations and getting fire trucks back in there and them responding. Those areas have been hit hard with their insurance premiums so we're trying to correct that," said Starling.

      Last week the board made a move to lease those two buildings, which many say is a step in the right direction. With 50 employees being cross trained, the fire department will have the four firefighters needed at each call to further lower their ISO rating.

      "It's going to be a tremendous asset as far as the ISO is concerned and of course as far as just the daily responding to fires. Two men on a fire truck has really got you shorthanded on that," said Lee County Fire Chief James Howell.

      Fire officials hope to purchase two trucks to fill the new buildings and get them up and running as well as begin recruiting volunteer firefighters before they receive their new ISO ratings in early 2014.