Dunwoody officials are asking leaders of the three other north DeKalb County cities to consider joining together to start a fire department.

Dunwoody City Councilman Terry Nall and City Manager Warren Hutmacher said Dunwoody officials discussed the possibility during the council’s retreat this week. Dunwoody council members liked the idea and decided to confer with leaders of the other cities to see what they think, the two said.

Dunwoody officials believe the four cities – Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville and Dunwoody – could create an authority to provide fire services. They said such an authority could provide better fire protection to residents of the cities than they now receive from DeKalb County without collecting more in fire service taxes.

“We believe we can do this in the four-city area with the same fire-district [tax] millage DeKalb County has today,” Nall said.

Dunwoody City Councilman John Heneghan said creation of a department would be “a long way off.” If the other cities agree to the concept, he said, the group would hire an outside contractor to look into possibilities.

“It’s any exciting thing to think about, but we’re in no means near there,” Heneghan said. “It’s down the road.”

Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis said he had been contacted by Nall and was interested in the prospect of the new fire department, but did not think Brookhaven –which opened for business only about two months ago and still is trying to organize its basic city services – would be able to join soon.

“In the grand scheme of things right now, it’s not something Brookhaven is going to take on,” Davis said. “We are busy building the foundation of the city.”

But, he said, Brookhaven could be interested in joining such a venture in the future. “It’s an exciting prospect,” Davis said.

In 2010, Dunwoody officials investigated starting a city fire department but found that it would be too costly.

Nall and Hutmacher said a multi-city department could make financial sense. A preliminary study estimated the department could start up and operate for about $13.7 million a year, while the fire tax millage in the area could provide $14.16 million a year in revenue, they said.

The fire authority would be able to add new fire stations and relocate existing fire stations so they provide better services to city residents, Nall said. Preliminary studies show large areas of Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Doraville are outside a 1.5-mile drive from the five existing stations in the communities, he said.

Dunwoody officials propose the authority be overseen by a board composed of the mayors of the four cities and three of the city managers, Nall said. The fourth city manager would act as an administrator for the board, he said.

“We always talk about the ‘Three P’s’ – ‘parks, paving and police,’” he said. “It’s time to change that to ‘parks, paving and public safety,’ to include fire services,” he said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.