Andrew Dys

Fire prevention week puts spotlight on heroes among us: firefighters

Around York and Chester counties this week there will be fire trucks at schools almost every day. It will not be to fight fires or save children – hopefully. This week departments are teaching children during National Fire Prevention Week.

Fire Prevention Week sounds, well, boring. It is not a sexy topic. Most firefighters are men, and their pictorial calendar of real firefighters covered with sweat and grime and soot wouldn’t sell a dozen copies.

Who cares, right?

The firefighters who serve, most of them volunteers, they care. They have one of the few jobs where they hope to never go to work, but they always do.

There are more than 600 volunteer firefighters in York County to serve a population that has grown by almost 90,000 in the last two decades to a quarter-million people. Rock Hill, with a 70,000 population, has paid firefighters. Smaller towns and a few departments have daytime paid firefighters. Most coverage in York County still is by volunteers.

There has been some talk, but no action, of paid, county-wide fire protection. Politicians decide what money is spent. Politicians have meetings and talk a lot. Politicians are not known for action.

Firefighters are all action. They barely talk and run into burning buildings.

Fire safety and prevention, in an evolving, growing York County, is a challenge that must be met, says Billy Weatherford, York County director of fire safety.

To handle the increased need for training the county is spending about $5 million to build a new training center south of York. Included are two fire training towers.

Those 5-story towers will burn repeatedly and firefighters will train there – so that maybe other buildings never burn.

“Sometimes people take firefighters for granted, that they always will be there – and they sure are – but we don’t take them for granted,” Weatherford said.

Tower construction should finish by the end of the year, Weatherford said, with move-in and trainingsoon afterward.

Why does it matter?

Because York County has industries and schools and massive residential tracts that are served by the volunteer and paid firefighters who need to be trained to handle what they can’t prevent.

If these volunteers give their guts and courage and broken bones and burned backs for free to help the rest of us, it is not too much to ask to give them the training space they need.

Guys such as Joey Volk and Rich Diamanti at Newport Volunteer Fire Department on Rock Hill’s northwest boundary, who were hurt fighting a fire in March, they care. Diamanti’s leg was smashed and he still is not back to work. Volk had a broken leg and burns and he is now back volunteering and helping others.

Newport Chief Carl Faulk, who in four decades of service has never been paid a nickel, said firefighters such as Volk and Diamanti and hundreds of others in York County take fire prevention week seriously because not having a working smoke detector or not fixing fire hazards are the main reasons firefighters have jobs to do.

Chester County has almost all of its mostly rural territory covered by volunteers. Men and women who often work full-time jobs and still, at night and weekends and even sometimes leaving work Monday through Friday, help others.

Richburg Fire Chief John Agee, another guy with four decades of volunteering, said fire safety awareness and prevention can often be the difference between a problem and a crisis. So department volunteers visit schools and businesses and try to drill into people that firefighters will come to help, but the best place to see a fireman is waving at one driving past the station.

“We are here to serve people with the hope that we don’t have to,” Agee said.

Faulk said: “We hope people can be safe and prevent problems at their home, their business. But when they call 911 we are ready, and we sure go.”