Official: New standards for interior firefighting could hurt recruitment - The Times and Democrat

While Orangeburg County fire officials say well-trained firefighters are important, new state standards set for interior firefighting could have a chilling impact on attracting new volunteers to an increasingly aging firefighter pool.

"We are not busting any seams getting 16-, 17- and 18-year-old men and women out here to give their time," Orangeburg County Fire Advisory Board Chairman Kirk Davis said. "We are in critical times, and it is not just in Orangeburg County. It is for our whole state."

Davis said the South Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in the process of implementing minimum standards required for interior firefighting that would include at least 200 hours of training.

"Those 200-plus hours do not give us any bells and whistles," Davis said. "That is the bare minimum that you have to have before you start fighting fires according to what we are looking at right now, which is a lot. This is not attractive if somebody wants to come to the door and become a firefighter."

Orangeburg County Fire System Coordinator Gene Ball said the standards are not for exterior firefighting, accident response or fire vehicle operations but only for fighting fires inside structures.

He said the training is also segmented and not a consecutive 200-hour course.

Davis says when he became a firefighter about 25 years ago, the training was not that extensive.

"If you look back at the books ... really ... truthfully, you were turning out better firefighters," he said. "They knew more of what they were going into when they went into it versus what they are doing right now."

Davis said the Advisory Board is not asking to have less trained firefighters, but he stressed that 200 hours of training will require firefighters to work nights and weekends.

"What we are asking for is let's look back and see whether (by) adding this number of hours ... we (are) really accomplishing much more by doing it," Davis said. "I really don't think we are."

Also during the meeting, Ball reiterated the concerns that some areas of the county still do not have adequate water and fire hydrants in place, thus increasing homeowners' insurance premiums.

"We can't do a fire rating unless we have water in an area," Ball said. "We also have to have 16 fire hydrants in order to do a fire rating."

He said there was some misunderstanding that the fire department was responsible for running water lines.

"It is not our problem," Ball said. "There is a need to get this one-cent money moving because a lot of people are being affected by (being) that distance from a fire hydrant. That is something that we need to address seriously on the development of infrastructure. A lot of people are getting crunched by it."

In other business, the commissioners changed the Fire Advisory Board election process that would have each board member serve a two-year term. The board has seven seats, representing each district in the county.

Board members representing odd number districts - 1, 3, 5 and 7 - will be elected during odd number years, and members representing districts 2, 4 and 6 will be elected on even number years.

The Fire Advisory Board serves in an advisory position to the Fire Commission.

Also during the meeting:

* The commissioners scheduled a grand opening celebration of the district's fire training tower and burn building from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. Demonstrations will be presented, fire apparatus will be on display and refreshments will be available.

* The commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of two new Pierce fire trucks at a total cost of $498,676. The district has purchased Pierce fire trucks since its inception in the late 1990s. The new fire trucks are deemed necessary to help upgrade an aging fleet. The placement of the trucks will be determined later.

* The commissioners approved the purchase of two used fire trucks for Cordova ($7,800) and Bowman ($9,500).

* Ball expressed his appreciation for Sinkler Boone, commission adviser, for his continued contributions to the fire district.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551.

31 Aug, 2011


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