County fire service needs are a priority
Tuesday, May 06, 2014 1:04 AM
Greenwood County is blessed to have dedicated and caring volunteer firefighters stationed throughout the region, but as dedicated as they are to their jobs as firefighters, they are not equitably equipped to do their jobs.
This became evident during a discussion county fire coordinator Steve Holmes and county emergency services director Derek Kinney had last week with county council. There’s an old saying, “Don’t play with fire,” that is applicable here. Holmes and Kinney are not playing when they point to some areas of concern and where deficiencies lie. Council need not play with fire, either, and it would seem the county’s fire service is indeed a top priority that needs to be addressed. And from residents’ standpoint, the quality of fire service is of higher priority than, say, what to do with the old civic center building.
Fire service is something residents in particular, but businesses and industries as well, tend to take for granted. If there is a fire, they presume a fire department somewhere nearby will respond and do its best to save the structure and, more important, lives. However, the information rolled out last week by Holmes and Kinney quickly reveal that not all fires can or will be treated alike. And that is through no fault of the volunteers who, again, we believe are dedicated and will do the very best with what they have.
Among the points:
• Firefighters are aging. The average age among the 260 firefighters is 40.
• The fleet firefighters have for response also is aging. While the industry standards would dictate fire vehicles be retired at 25 years, the average age of the 52 vehicles in the county’s fleet is 19. In other words, the county is facing the need to replace a number of vehicles soon or risk vehicles breaking down at a time they are needed most.
• Some fire stations are in need of repairs. Repairs, not replacement. Repairs, not adornments. That the Hodges-Cokesbury station’s foundation is unstable is not something that can be sidelined for several years to come.
• While a number of repair needs were enumerated, county council also was told that, down the road and in an effort to meet future needs of the county as it grows, upwards of seven new fire stations could be needed at a cost of $150,000 each. Yes, you read that correctly. The stations could be built for far less than an average home. That’s because the design would be basic, utilitarian and not, as Kinney told council, “Taj Mahals.”
• Equipment and protective gear needs are nearing a price tag of $500,000. Firefighters cannot and should not be expected to respond without proper gear. A firefighter’s gear takes plenty of abuse and must be replaced with some degree of regularity. It’s not a matter of having the latest and greatest in gear, but simply the need to ensure responders also are protected when they are battling fires.
Residents -- taxpayers -- will have some thoughts to share on the needs of the various fire departments. Many will no doubt protest the possible option of fire fees being changed from a flat fee to a tiered fee, based on square footage of the building. That council will be asked to consider adding paid staff to the personnel roles likely will bring criticism.
No plan has been devised, no budget developed at this time. However, the points raised by Holmes and Kinney are real and need to be addressed sooner than later. This is not to suggest the pair should be given carte blanche to do what they wish with the county’s fire service, but their knowledge and expertise should be given thoughtful consideration.