Fire service in Fort Mill could grow soon

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comOctober 8, 2013 

— A surge in new homes and businesses throughout the Fort Mill area is sparking a response from local firefighters, who look to bring more service to more people.

Past press time Monday, York County Council had a third and final reading scheduled for its 2013-14 budget. Included was a new amendment calling for $300,000 to acquire and clear land for, and design, a new substation for the Riverview Fire Department. The department’s special tax district has more than $667,000 in reserve funding, so the remaining balance of $367,000 would represent 139 percent of its operating budget.

According to information provided to Council, the tax district board has a site selected and is getting it appraised.

Chief Sam Lesslie said the new substation would be in the Hwy. 160 West area, covering some of the outskirt areas of his service boundaries along Zoar Road, into North Carolina and back into South Carolina near Lake Wylie.

“We’ve got a temporary station covering it now, but it’s temporary,” Lesslie said.

Toward the end of last year, a change in insurance requirements meant the squad had to quickly locate an engine in the area to meet the five-mile mark for having homes and businesses near a station. The new substation would meet that standard.

On Monday morning, Lesslie said the timing of any new station would depend on when the land sale is complete, which itself depended on getting the money allocated.

“It’s all going to depend on tonight,” he said, referring to the Oct. 7 meeting.

Council also was to consider a request by the Flint Hill Fire Department to apply for a federal grant that could add two paid, part-time firefighters. Chief David Jennings, in a letter to county staff, said the goal is to have four firefighters on duty around-the-clock.

“This is critical to meet the needs of providing fire protection with the continuing increases in residents, businesses and call volume,” he wrote.

The grant would run for two years. If the fire district can fund the positions at the end of those two years, they’ll stay. Otherwise, one or both would be laid off. There is no county match or millage increase associated with the move.

Of the 21 square miles served by Flint Hill, 55 percent of that area is residential and another 15 percent commercial. Currently the department has two full-time firefighters at all times and two part-timers working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Volunteers supplement night and weekend shifts.

Three firefighters would share the two new positions and serve 5 p.m.-8 a.m. Monday through Friday. Salaries would be $36,400 each.

Monday’s moves predate another fire decision in Fort Mill, again aimed at improving service to a growing community. Late last month, the town’s public safety committee met in executive session and discussed acquiring property for a second Fort Mill Fire Department station. Some type of vote on the issue is expected at Fort Mill Town Council’s next meeting, Oct. 14.

The town also budgeted for six new firefighters in the fiscal year beginning this month, with a start date of Jan. 1, 2014, expected.

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