After 20 years under the leadership of Chief Bill Kruysman, firefighters in Tega Cay will now be taking orders from Scott Szymanski.
"I have always believed you've got to give back to the community you live in," Szymanski said. "We've got a bunch of guys here that all have full time jobs and still put in a lot of hours."
Firefighters elected Szymanski March 1 to replace Kruysman, who did not seek another two-year term as chief.
"It's a lot of work watching over 33 people and seven trucks," Kruysman said.
After 20 years, he said, it is time for someone new to take over. Kruysman wants to spend more time with his family, and will be doing more international traveling for his day job in chemical engineering. However, he will remain involved with the department, heading up vehicle maintenance, Szymanski said.
"His biggest challenge, like any other northern York County department, will be growth," Kruysman said of his successor.
"Eventually, at some point, we will need to put on some paid firefighters. It's inevitable," Szymanski agreed.
Both the Fort Mill and Flint Hill fire departments have hired paid firefighters in recent years, so someone is always at those stations to roll out a truck as soon as a call comes in. The department is already talking with city officials about building a substation in the Gardendale area. Currently, it keeps a truck at the Tega Cay Police Department to help response times for LakeShore, but that is not a permanent solution for the growing city.
The department also needs a 75- to 100-foot ladder truck, which can cost more than $500,000, to help protect the new commercial buildings in Stonecrest and the three-story condos near the Beach and Swim Center. It also needs more recruits, preferably young ones, as many of the department's longtime volunteers are reaching middle age.
"I'm 51, and a lot of the guys are older, too," Szymanski said. "There comes a point where you have to stop going into fires."
Several younger firefighters have joined the department recently, he said, but it could always use more. The department has 46 members, including 26 certified firefighters, and Szymanski's goal is get as many of them as possible extra training and certifications.
Three members of the department recently finished training to become level 1 firefighters, a step up from the basic firefighter certification that requires 80 hours of training. Another member just finished a seven-week training course in Columbia, he said.
The department will get a rare training opportunity next month when it holds some practice burns on some of developer Herman Stone's land in the Stonecrest area. The burns are planned for Saturday, April 19. Szymanski plans to start after a 9 a.m. breakfast meeting. He has also invited the Riverview, Flint Hill and Fort Mill departments to participate.
In the coming months city residents could see a return on their investment in the fire department in the form of lower homeowner's insurance rates. At the end of February the Insurance Service Office inspected the department and will be releasing a new ISO rating on the department in the next 90 to 120 days, Szymanski said. In most cases, homeowners' insurance rates are based in part on the ISO rating of the fire department serving that home. The department is currently rated a 6 (on a scale of one to 10). The lower the rating, the lower the insurance rate. The last time it was rated was 24 years ago.
"We had no hydrants at the time, we shuttled water, we were using a street sweeper as a pumper truck," he said. "We've come a long way. We're keeping our fingers crossed for a lower rating."
One of the components of the ISO rating is the type of equipment a department has available. Since Tega Cay is the only department along Lake Wylie with a fire boat, Szymanski said he is hoping that will give the department some bonus points.
BBQ fundraiser set
This Sunday, the Tega Cay VFD will hold its annual barbecue fundraiser from noon to 6 p.m. Tickets cost $7 for adults and $4 for kids younger than 12. All proceeds go to the department.