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Bridges don#039;t affect rescue

Bridges are meant to be helpful, allowing people to cross by means of transportation from one dry spot to another. But a number of bridges in Covington County may be more of a problem than they are helping, according to some emergency personnel.

But according to many rescue personnel, the bridges aren't that big of a problem.

"As far as crossing them, I've crossed 3-ton weight limit bridges with fire trucks loaded with water," Mike Bush, chief of the Hopewell Volunteer Fire Department said.

Bush added on emergency calls, he doesn't have time to think about the bridges.

According to Covington County Engineer Darren Capps, there are 289 bridges 20 feet or greater (217 concrete and 72 timber) in the county. He added the county ranks second in the state with the most bridges.

"Currently there are 81 bridges less than 13 tons which is required before a school bus can cross," Capps said. "All of these are on dirt roads except for two."

A total of 69 bridges have been replaced in the past six years (averages 11.5 bridges per year). All of the replacement bridges were constructed with concrete and steel, with the total cost of the bridges about $16 million.

The $16 million came from a combination of Flood - Emergency Relief - FHWA, FEMA, federal funds, and state Amendment One Bond and County Funds, but funding for the bridges is hard to come by, according to Bush, who also works in the County Engineer's office.

"You've got to fund this (project) with something," he said. "When the state came up with the bond money to replace these bridges, we had our information and we (are now) complete. We've used every bit of the money they've given us to complete bridges."

According to Bush, a small stream crossing bridge could cost $200,000.

"Over a period of time - you can eat up a lot of money quickly," he said.

Larger bridges are much more expensive, he added.

"Other bridges, like the bridge that's up near Point A, you're talking about $1 million a piece," said Bush.

The Covington County Commission has worked to secure some of those funds.

"The county has utilized funds from federal, state and local sources," Greg White, chairman of the CCC said. "We are continuing to work with our legislators and Governor (Bob) Riley's administration to secure additional state funding to supplement our local money to continue this replacement program."

Until extra funding comes along, emergency personnel will travel over many of the bridges in the county.

Bush said the water used in the fire trucks is more than 3 tons, but with the trucks the total weight would be closer to 10 tons.

"If we can re-route around the (problematic) bridges, we will," said Steve Walters, director of Andalusia Rescue Squad said. "But as far as us being concerned about crossing any bridges, we really haven't been."

Walters added he hasn't gone over any bridge that has concerned him while crossing, but if there is a bridge out for a period of time, or if a bridge is being worked on, there is usually notification beforehand.

"E-911 will contact us, and then they'll call us and let us know (to stay away from) a particular area," Walters said.

Bush said construction on bridges is planned and discussed in advance.

"Construction is known ahead of time," Bush said. "(Emergency personnel) knows about it before (the county) even takes the bridge out."

Other volunteer firefighters in the county have had problems with bridges.

"We do have bridges we (aren't supposed) to cross, because of the weight limit," Dale Pancake, chief of the Dixie Volunteer Fire Department said. "But we do what we need to do."

Pancake added his department crosses the bridges on emergency calls.

"We don't cross them often," he said. "There are maybe two we cross, but my (district) isn't highly populated."

According to Pancake, bridges should be up to par in the county, especially for emergency calls.

"Bridges should be adequate for emergency (personnel) to respond," he said. "Should a forest fire occur, and we need (large equipment) like a bulldozer, we might have a lot of difficulty trying to get around."

Pancake added some places in the county don't have access to water.

"Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon," he said. "And a tanker, which is already over limits, could easily weigh 16,000 pounds (8 tons)."

One volunteer firefighter reported he doesn't have noisome bridges in his district.

"We don't have any (bridges) that give us problems in the Antioch district, but I don't know about other districts," John Smith, chief of the Antioch Volunteer Fire Department said.

"Overall it sounds like a lot of bridges (in need of repair)," Capps said. "But when you look at the whole picture it's not all that bad."

Covington County ranks eighth in the state for the number of miles of paved road, added Capps.

"It's easy to find an alternate route (away from the bridges)," Bush said. "There are very few one way in, one way out situations."

The water level around the bridges also poses a threat to some of the people crossing.

"Since I've been here, I can't think of any bridge that flooded or became unpassable," Walters said.

Others are skeptical about the condition of the bridges and the water level.

"We haven't had (a truck) to fall in yet," Pancake said.