If firefighters can’t beat community growth, they’ll try joining it.
Flint Hill Fire Department leaders are making their case for more paid staff. They’re looking for a federal grant to add the positions, and got a nod from York County Council April 17, when the group agreed to a letter of support. Randy McCurry, chairman of the department’s fire tax board, said the move is in response to a constant for Flint Hill — community growth.
“It continues to happen in our district,” he said.
The district has been working for three decades to keep up, and in recent years added three full-time and two part-time positions. Now they are looking at eight full-time firefighters.
“We really felt like the growth and the landscape of the district is starting to change so much, that we really needed to have a more aggressive plan,” McCurry said.
Flint Hill isn’t the only growing area. Homes and businesses are coming with regularity to Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie. The Pleasant Valley fire board in Indian Land met Tuesday to talk budget details and the cost of equipping new rescue service. An Indian Land fire district board had an April 19 meeting to discuss land for future substations and manpower requirements, a new rescue truck, future aerial truck and a possible increase in the annual district fee to $90.
Yet even here, Flint Hill can make its argument for more manpower.
The 15.4-square-mile district covers an estimated 25,000 people. There are 15 volunteers along with five staffers. Volunteers, averaging two per incident, responded to about 3 percent of the 1,275 calls last year. The district responded, on average, in seven minutes 38 seconds. More than two minutes above the national standard.
“A lot of that’s due to traffic, and the fact that our one station has to cover our entire district,” said Chief David Jennings. “We have two stations but we only have one staffed, and it is staffed around-the-clock all year long.”
Staffing two stations would mean one on each side of I-77, which could help response times by cutting down crossing that high-traffic area.
“It’s a perfect situation to have departments on both sides,” Jennings said.
Of the 16 departments receiving money from York County — all but the fully paid Rock Hill department — only Fort Mill Fire Department handled more calls last year than Flint Hill. Flint Hill roughly doubled or better the calls for every department but Fort Mill and York.
Yet more of the Flint Hill calls are fire related than in other areas, where older or lower income populations often prompt more medical calls. Rock HIll has three times the fire stations and more than seven times the paid firefighters as Flint Hill. Fort Mill has the same number of stations, but plans to double it, and twice the firefighters.
Flint Hill serves about 7,000 more people than Fort Mill and more residents per square mile than Rock Hill. Almost triple the per square mile rate in Fort Mill.
“We’ve been getting closer and closer to Rock Hill on population density, and we just passed them in the first quarter of this year,” Jennings said.
The added firefighters would allow for two full engine companies, one at each station.
“It is something that we do believe, as a board and fire department, that we need really as a minimum standard,” McCurry said.
The days of an all-volunteer force covering areas like Flint Hill are long in the past.
“We’re a combination department that’s primarily paid,” Jennings said. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how we’d be able to keep up.”
York County has a consultant looking at fire needs countywide. There were recent changes to the tax board setup in Lake Wylie. The county is trying not to make too many major fire decisions as it awaits the consultant recommendations on personnel, makeup and other fire protection needs.
The federal grant request, Jennings said, isn’t about the structure of the department. It’s about having the force needed to protect a growing community.
“Whether our tax board is running this fire district or whether the county is running this fire district, the fire protection needs are the same,” he said.