Bamberg County Fire Service Interviews: Part 2
Written by Jerry E. Halmon   

In recognition of Fire Prevention Week and in an effort to make the citizens of Bamberg County more aware of the exceptional job the men and women of the fire service do, The Advertizer-Herald Newspaper presents the last three interviews in a series of interviews with the fire chiefs of the county’s fire stations. The Advertizer-Herald reached out to each department for an interview, with the Olar Fire Department being the only department not responding after several attempts were made.

Ricky Crosby is fire chief of the Little Swamp Fire Department which includes 16- volunteer firefighters. Like the other fire chiefs interviewed, Crosby points to the lowering of the ISO rating from a (9) rating to a (6) in the county as a major accomplishment. “We’re really proud of that. We’ve been working on that for years, going back two or three fire chiefs,” Crosby said. Crosby noted a lot of the credit for the lower ISO rating goes back to the work of the fire coordinator (Brenna Hancock).

“She (Hancock) has been a real help, an asset,” Crosby said. Crosby noted it was through a grant that Hancock wrote that the Little Swamp Fire Department was able to receive a 2010, 3,000 gallon tanker, among other trucks she’s gotten for the department, he said. That’s why Crosby said he and a number of other firefighters were upset, when at a recent business meeting they learned the fire coordinator’s position came up as a possible budget cut item.

“A number of firefighters said they didn’t want to lose the coordinator and would take the necessary steps to challenge-and prevent that from happening,” Crosby commented. As for the support the firefighters receive from the county, “We have had some support, not all negative,” Crosby said. “I do feel we get left out. I think fire suppression is a priority and it doesn’t get treated that way.” As for the Emergency Services Office and how it is being ran, “It’s improved, it’s like the fire service, it has areas that need improvement.” Crosby stated the bottom line, the reason he got involved in the fire service was to, “help people.”

Chief Charles Breland leads the 22 member Denmark Volunteer Fire Department. Breland noted that the numbers in the Denmark fire department are growing, with two new members to be certified in the next few months and three other persons expressing interest in joining the department. He stated since he has been fire chief in Denmark, he has received “nothing but support” not only from his volunteers, but also the ladies auxiliary that he says plays, “a big part in our department,” and needs to be recognized as well as anybody. His job as chief has been “made easier” because of the “good support” he has received from the other chief’s in the other departments and the City of Denmark.

In the way of new equipment, the Denmark Fire Department has received two new cascade systems, one of which is mobile for the equipment truck and the other stationary for the fire station that were obtained through a grant. The department also recently received new walkie talkies and radios. Breland noted the lower ISO rating county-wide is “a credit” to all the volunteers in the county who went out of their way to get the job done. He also gave credit to fire coordinator Hancock, who he says did a “good job” of seeing the departments got what they needed as far as the paper work being done. The City of Denmark ISO rating is presently a seven.

As for how the volunteers are supported by the county, “I feel like the county could do a little better with us,” Breland said and adding, “on the flip side with the economic times we’re having, they are probably doing all they can do without raising the millage. I’m sure that will come up shortly. Basically, I feel we are treated pretty fairly.”

As for the County 911 Service, Breland said, “I feel we’ve got a pretty good working relationship with the 911 service. I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last year or so. I feel the 911 system is coming around." Breland noted at one time he was not “real pleased” with the 911 department, but now there is a lot better “rapport with the dispatchers.” “We seem to be clicking. We’ve come together, between EMS and fire service. Breland stated that when there is a structure fire EMS is starting to respond on the scene. “That’s how I feel about it anyway,” he said.

Breland said he wanted to thank the members of his department for what they do. “They put a lot of time and effort in for no pay at all strictly volunteer and a lot of long hours and training.”

Mike Epperson is fire chief of the Govan Volunteer Fire Department that has 14 firefighters, five auxiliary members, three junior firefighters and a CERT team that is trained and equipped for rapid response. By the way of equipment, the Govan Fire Department owns one 2005 Pumper, one 2010 Tanker and one 1989 Service Truck that has a full cascade system, as well as hydraulic, air and manual extrication tools.

Chief Epperson noted most of the department’s equipment has been acquired through grants he has written himself. Epperson stated he has written grants that have been awarded for the following: Five new trucks in the county, Govan’s new pumper and tanker, Ehrhardt’s new pumper and tanker, Denmark’s new tanker. Grants that provided new air packs for the county, a grant that provided radios for the county and “many other grants as well.”

Epperson attributes the lower ISO rating that went from a (10) to a (4) in Govan (with the City of Bamberg being the only other municipality with a (4) rating) to the hard work of members of the department, attending an ISO class four years ago, where he learned to make sure the trucks were properly equipped, the record keeping was up to date and to the Olar/Govan Regional Water System.

“As a small department with very limited funds, we realized we had two choices. We could complain about our situation and sit here with our hand out, or as a department and community link our hands together and work to improve our situation and we have done just that,” Epperson said.

The chief noted his department has raised matching funds for grants through fundraisers, donations and drives. The department has almost completed a 1800- square foot addition to its present building. Epperson stated the department has not received any funding from the county for the new addition, which was paid for through fundraisers, donations at the annual Christmas party the first Saturday of December and the annual Soup and Cornbread Supper the first Saturday in March.

All the labor for the new addition has been donated by members of the department, who came together every Tuesday night for the past two and a half years to complete the work which includes: a meeting room, bathroom, kitchen, office space and bunk rooms. The building is now being used by the county as the new polling place for voting. “I could not ask for a better group of people than we have in this department. If it were not for the members of this department we would not be where we are today. I count it an honor and a pleasure to be associated with this department and to be their chief,” Epperson said.

As for the support the fire service receives from the county Epperson stated, “I think as a fire service the county could do more. Our funding doesn’t even cover all our expenses.” Epperson said his department relies on fundraisers and donations to make up the balance. He stated he would like to see the county council and fire advisory board come up with a comprehensive plan to, “move Bamberg County’s fire service forward.”

As for the 911 Service and how it is being ran, “I think for the money the county has and the situation we’re in financially its being run well. When it comes to our 911 director, I think Sharon (Hammond) is doing an excellent job. I think she does everything in her power to try to get us the equipment and supplies that we need and to make sure that we are disaster ready,” Epperson said.