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LFD welcomes battalion chief

Posted: February 14, 2014 2:52 p.m.
Updated: February 15, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Web photo extra: Lugoff Fire Department Battalion Chief Chris Spitzer stands next to his department-issued SUV at LFD headquarters. Chief Dennis Ray created the position last summer, and hired Spitzer, to assist him both with administrative and firefighting duties. Ray said Spitzer as become the “face” of the LFD in recent months.

The Lugoff Fire Department (LFD) has added a senior officer to their ranks, and he is very familiar with the area. Battalion Chief Chris Spitzer is a Camden native and was hired to the new position by LFD Chief Dennis Ray last summer to oversee all the fire and rescue operations of the department.

“I grew up here. Married my high school sweetheart, Melissa, it will be 21 years in August. We have three kids, two girls and a boy,” Spitzer said. “I joined the county fire service back in 1990 when I was a junior in high school. Back then, we were able to join and could do a lot of things: help out at fires, help out around the station, but we couldn’t actively fight fires.”

Spitzer said his great-grandfather was a Camden fireman in the 1920s and the desire to be in the fire service consumed him.

“I got to where I couldn’t stand to be away from the fire station. When I was at school I’d be thinking about the fire station. I’d go home and do my chores and the next thing you’d know, I’d be hanging around the fire station. I had a lot of good mentors there. It has really helped me out throughout my career. That was at Antioch Fire Department. I spent a number of years there and to this day I’m still a volunteer with Antioch,” Spitzer said.

He joined the Camden Fire Department in 1997 as a full-time firefighter.

“I was so excited,” Spitzer said. “I was working in industry then but it was only a matter of time before I made a career of the fire service. Chief Bobby Parnell called me and offered me the job. Other than my wedding, that was one of the best days ever. Camden is a good department and I had a lot of good mentors there. I was fortunate enough to be put on Phil Elliot’s shift. He’s now the deputy chief for Camden. He would work me pretty hard.”

Spitzer left Camden for Horry County in 2007 and became a training officer there. He said firefighters never stop learning and training for the job.

“When you’re in the fire service, your education never stops. We basically get an education like a doctor, we’re just not getting paid like it. The fire service never stops changing. It’s constantly evolving and we’re killing firemen every day. We’re having to learn from those things that happen nationally. We were always taught safety, but there’s all the small, minor details that contribute to a firemen getting hurt or even killed,” he said.

Spitzer is an adjunct instructor for the South Carolina Fire Academy in Columbia and teaches courses statewide. He said that after spending several years in Horry County, he is glad to be back in his home county.

“It was time to come home,” he said. “I had an offer from the city of Columbia and here at the same time. I just felt like Lugoff was a better fit for me because Chief Ray has taken this place far beyond what it was years ago. He has really turned this place around. It’s exciting for me to be part of that. It’s such a growing department, plus I’m close to home.” 

Ray said not only is Spitzer new to the department, but so is the position of battalion chief.

“I’m almost in my fourth year as fire chief and after the first year I noticed it’s overwhelming for one person to run all of the administration of a career combination fire department,” Ray said. “It’s a lot of paperwork with bills, budgets and a lot to maintain. We had discussions of getting an administrative assistant to help me with paperwork as the fire chief. I thought about that, and it’s an important position, but I needed another gear-wearing, fire hose-carrying firefighter who can help me administratively and help me fight fires and run operations and that’s when the whole battalion chief concept came up.”

Having Spitzer on board allows Ray to perform his administrative duties.

“The fire chief’s role is administrative. It’s community outreach, media relations, doing retirement plans, handling the budget, ordering equipment and making sure our finances are in order and being the direct answer to my five-person, elected governing board. Operations, which is dealing with the shifts, dealing with fire trucks, day-to-day operations now fall under the battalion chief level,” Ray said.

The fire department is under a “special taxing district” that provides its funding. Ray said Lugoff’s growth has expanded the tax base, which allowed Spitzer’s hiring to be made without a tax increase.

“We were able to fill this full-time position without any extra cost to the taxpayers,” he said. “Lugoff is getting a lot of growth. If you build a new house today in Lugoff, it takes two years for us to really collect the tax money for that home, so there’s a lull there. We have all these new subdivisions and new businesses, but we don’t get that property tax money immediately. We’re starting to reap that now, especially in the past two years.”

Ray said Spitzer is now the face of the department at fires and accident scenes.

“I felt like I could justify him to our taxpayers because when they have a fire, they are going to see him commanding that scene, making sure everyone is safe, including our people while our firefighters go in and put the fire out. It was a smart business decision that has paid off well over the past six months. He is the operations chief. That frees me to write grants and do budget and administrative work,” Ray said.

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