Bamberg County Fire Service sees big improvements

The Bamberg County Fire Service has made great improvements over the past several years according to Bamberg County Fire Coordinator, Brenna Hancock. Hancock, who has been county fire coordinator since September 28, 2006 stated that of the nine fire departments and one substation in the county (five departments are within municipalities), almost all the departments have new or newer model trucks.

The county purchased two pumpers last year for the rural area. In 2009, county fire departments received $799,256 in SC Forestry Division and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Grants. All total, equipment in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Grants received by county fire departments over the last several years has amounted to $2,516,037. Grants for 2010 have not come in yet. The county fire service is expected to have “lot of grants out there for 2010, we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

“I’ am proud of our fire service,” Hancock said, adding, “The dedicated fire chiefs, volunteer firefighters, Bamberg County Council members and the County Administrator (Rose Dobson-Elliott) have helped move the fire service forward. We currently have 171 dedicated volunteers. Without volunteers our fire service could not operate.”

The Bamberg County Fire Service has seen a steady increase in the number of volunteers. In 2006 there were 126 volunteers. In 2008 that number increased to 147 and in 2010 the number of volunteers has increased to 171 volunteers.

Hancock said there has been somewhat of an evolution in the fire service, saying because of the efforts of the county building inspector (Bill Johnson) to enforce the county building codes, the county is not seeing as many structure fires. She said the role of firefighters is changing in that they are expected to perform many other duties now other than fighting fires, such as working disasters, floods, cutting trees and working accident scenes.

“We’re not about just firefighting now. We’re more than just firefighters. It’s becoming rarer to have fires these days.” Hancock said that with the change in weather the number of calls the various departments receives will increase with people starting their furnaces and fire places for the first time. “But in many cases those aren’t actual fires,” she said.

According to Hancock, another area that is changing is the number of minorities and women that have come into the fire service in Bamberg County since 2006. In 2006 there were eight Black Males and no Black Females in the fire service in Bamberg County. In 2010 there are now 10 Black Males and two Black Females. In 2006 there were 16 females in the fire service and now in 2010 there are 24 females in the fire service.

Hancock credits the ladies auxiliaries with playing a big part in increasing the number of female and minority members in the fire service which she said “allows for more diversity” in the fire departments. There are a lot of people out there that would like to join the fire service and perform many of the other duties required other than fight fires. “We welcome diversity, it’s not a club,” Hancock said pointing to the “Each One Reach One” state program as an attempt to add more diversity in the fire service.

Another program that proved beneficial to the county fire service last year and will continue this year is preventative health screening for firefighters that may have saved some lives from heart attacks, which is the second highest killer of firefighters with the first being auto accidents driving to a fire scene.

A major goal of the Bamberg County Fire Service is to lower the county’s ISO rating. Fire departments are rated by the Insurance Services Office on a scale of 1 to 10. The lower a communities PPC (Public Protection Classification) the lower the homeowner insurance premiums are for the residents near that department.

She said that most of the communities in Bamberg County (outside of the municipalities) currently have a PPC of 9. ISO officials have begun surveying the county to determine the current PPC with hopes of lowering the current PPC rating.

The fire service is conducting county-wide fire service training to prepare departments for the survey Hancock said.