Fort Mill Times

Paid Lake Wylie fire chief to be named in November

Despite disagreements with Bethel volunteer firefighters, the Bethel Rural Fire District Board plans to hire a paid, full-time fire chief.
Despite disagreements with Bethel volunteer firefighters, the Bethel Rural Fire District Board plans to hire a paid, full-time fire chief.

A new fire chief in Lake Wylie will be named this fall.

The special fire tax district board met Aug. 3 and settled on a timeline for the new hire. A paid chief was part of a budget approved in March, then approved by York County Council. The position pays almost $120,000 toward salary and a new vehicle.

“We will announce the hiring on Nov. 2,” said Margaret Blackwell, tax board chair.

Job description and interview questions are being finalized. The tax board will work with York County staff to list the new position.

“We plan to post for a fire chief Sept. 15-Oct. 6,” Blackwell said. “We go by the county guidelines for posting for jobs.”

Interviews will be held Oct. 17-21. How many candidates come in for interviews depends on the candidate pool, and strength of applications. While the tax board will lead interviews, firefighters will participate, too.

“We expect to have a panel of board members and volunteers,” Blackwell said.

There has been disagreement among volunteers and the board, many firefighters arguing a new paid chief isn’t yet needed. The tax board and volunteers agree a paid chief will be needed at some point. They differ on when.

The Bethel Volunteer Fire Department operates as it has for decades, with members electing their chief from their ranks. The current chief is Don Love, elected in December. Volunteers approached county leadership about intervening, and even discussed refusing to change bylaws to where a paid chief wouldn’t be allowed to lead the volunteer department.

Love said Tuesday he didn’t want to comment on plans for the paid chief, other than to say his group has met with county leaders and plans to meet again in hopes of resolution between volunteers and the tax board.

“We’re trying to work things out,” he said.

Local fire service is an unusual mix in Lake Wylie. The fire tax district and its board brings in money annually, and makes fire service decisions including service and infrastructure upgrades in recent years. The board hired some paid staff.

But buildings, equipment and trucks predating the fire tax district or purchased from volunteer funds fall under Bethel control. So the fire board is in charge of the newest station and more trucks, while the volunteers have almost all the manpower.

Blackwell said talk of a paid chief began shortly after the fire tax board formed. The scope of fire service in Lake Wylie now makes a paid chief a priority.

“We have one building that’s worth more than $2 million,” Blackwell said. “The fire district pays the insurance for almost $3 million in buildings. We have equipment that’s at approximately $3 million in those stations.”

Another reason involves firefighters hired already, and ones coming to grow with the growing area.

“We hire firefighters who are young, and that has to do with the salary that we pay,” Blackwell said. “We need somebody there during the day who can train these young firefighters.”

The new chief will be on call 24-7 in a salaried position, Blackwell said. The position includes a vehicle allowance for fire district use only.

John Marks: 803-831-8166