A few thousand rural York County residents soon could have a fire station closer to home.
Officials hope seven proposed substations will mean faster emergency response and lower insurance rates for those now living more than 5 miles from a fire station.
"The county wanted to fill in gaps so everyone gets the benefits of fire protection," said David Jennings, chairman of the York County rural fire board and chief of Flint Hill Fire Department. "I think it took a real progressive step by county staff and council to tackle this project to protect residents."
York County has built into its current budget the financing for seven fire substations, mostly in the western half of the county, said Assistant County Manager Anna Hubbard Wilson. If the County Council approves the budget as presented June 16, the plan would be approved, she said.
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When the stations get started depends on how soon the county moves forward with funding, she said.
These volunteer-run substations would provide more services to rural areas around York, Clover and Fort Mill and eventually eliminate the reliance on the city of York, said Joe Cox, York County Councilman for western York County. The county pays York to respond to fire calls outside city limits and recently approved a new contract with the city.
Building the stations could cost between $150,000 and $250,000 each, not including the cost of land. Cox said some departments already own land that could be used for a substation.
Part of a rural fire tax increase in this year's budget, paid only by residents in unincorporated areas, would help pay for these new substations, Cox said. The increase, waiting to be approved with the budget, would be 80 cents on a $100,000 home.
Cox said he hopes all seven stations will be built within the next three years.
"It'll give taxpayers something for their money," he said. "It needed to be done 10 years ago, not today."
Improving response time
A public safety committee planned the seven locations with York's response time in mind. They were designed to work together, but Cox said the substations will help provide fire protection if the contract with York is canceled.
There's no way York firefighters can quickly respond to fires far outside the city limits, in places such as Hickory Grove, in enough time to save a burning home, Cox said.
Existing volunteer departments of Clover, Sharon, McConnells, Newport, Bethany, Hickory Grove and Fort Mill could run the substations, and Cox said the substations could be outfitted mostly with equipment the county already owns.
The majority of the county residents will be within 5 miles of fire service after these stations are built, but Jennings, who was on the committee recommending these locations, said there are a few people still outside this radius.
While substations can be a good thing, York Fire Chief Domenic Manera has said there are potential problems by not having paid staff.
"Just putting a substation in could give people a false level of security," Manera said. "With the volunteer departments, you are always concerned with the availability of all volunteers -- and that's nothing against the volunteers, it's just that they have full-time jobs."
Cox said full-time firefighters could be needed for those facilities in five to 10 years. Until then, Jennings said he hopes people living near these new stations want to help.
"It's like the 'Field of Dreams;' if we build it, they'll come," Jennings said. "The important thing is having a truck close to these people and contain it (the fire) before it gets out of hand. We'll need additional members to help."