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KCC discusses fire service

Posted: February 1, 2018 4:31 p.m.
Updated: February 2, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Council continues to grapple with issues related to growth, including how best to bolster and support its fire service.

To that end and at the request and suggestion of Councilman Al Bozard, Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns appointed an ad hoc committee to study the fire service and generate recommendations as to how best to allocate and augment existing resources.

The committee, which was chaired by Councilman Ben Connell and consisted of citizens, county and fire service staff members, and councilmen Tom Gardner and Jimmy Jones, gave a preliminary report and initial recommendations during council’s Jan. 23 meeting.

The underpinning issue is the fact that county fire stations are largely staffed by volunteers. While all agree the volunteers do an outstanding job, increasing pressures have made it more difficult for many of them to respond to calls. Some of them are working full time as firefighters elsewhere, so they may be coming on shift having worked a 24-hour shift at another department.

“These days, too, so many families are working so hard to make ends meet – people are working two jobs to pay bills and just can’t get away to go answer calls,” Connell said.

That said, the county fire service is still very much dependent on volunteer firefighters and probably always will be, he said.

The committee has made several findings, he said. First, there is a need for additional fire service personnel at the Blaney Fire Station and in eastern Kershaw County. However, more data is needed to determine exactly how many and what the potential cost/benefit may be. Also, there is a need to implement an integrated reporting system across all county stations to accurately measure how many calls are being handled and where taxpayer resources need to be directed. Finally, as the fire service at Blaney expands, the EMS unit currently housed at Blaney Fire Station will need a new location.

The committee also came up with several preliminary recommendations.

First, an emergency reporting program utilizing a unified data reporting system for calls received and handled by each station needs to be implemented. By doing this, the county can gain a clearer picture of call volume and allocate resources accordingly. With all stations on the same reporting system, the data is uniform and real-time.

In addition, the committee recommends reorganizing the fire service. Currently, there are 12 county volunteer stations, all of which operate fairly autonomously. One proposal is to reorganize the county service so that Emergency Management Director Gene Faulkenberry and Fire Marshal Keith Ray would be chief and assistant chief of the county fire service. In turn, the present chiefs at each statement would become fire captains reporting to Faulkenberry and Ray.

Also, standardizing equipment across the stations will go a long way to cut costs in maintaining and replacing apparatus as well as ensuring any truck or crew could respond to any situation throughout the county.

Ultimately, the goal is to streamline the present system to be more efficient, identify and realize cost savings, and identify where county resources can be best allocated, Connell said.

“Hopefully we can hire more full time firefighters -- we know we have to start in Blaney,” Connell said. 

Finally, it is recommended that the committee be reconvened in six months to analyze the data and make more specific recommendations, up to and including possibly developing questions for referenda to be considered by the voters.

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