. - Community advocates joined fire ffighters in Hollywood, S.C. Wednesday to sound the alarm over fire ighter pay and public safety in St. Paul's Fire District.
St. Paul's District fire fighters said they're paid $9.72 an hour, on average and not including overtime, but that base pay is costing them colleagues.
"At most of our stations, the most you'll find is two people. Unless you're at our headquarter station, Station 1," Kiva Sanders, an administrator former firefighter, said. Sanders said there's normally three to four people manning the main station.
"We need staffing, but it's so difficult to retain firefighters because our pay is not competitive with anyone else," Sanders said.
Those numbers have some residents concerned.
"At this station, as well as others within the St Paul's Fire District, oftentimes there's only one fire person on staff," Hollywood resident Mark Peper, said. "Now they may have a truck but what good is a truck with one firefighter."
"How can one fire person be at the station and take care of these homes," Francenia Nelson said. Nelson lives in Adam's Run, part of the area covered by St. Paul's. The nine stations cover an area ranging from Ravenel to Hollywood to Edisto Island.
St. Paul's District Chairman Paul Alston said staffing and salaries are long-time problems for the district. He said the station is mostly funded by property and auto taxes.
According to documents from Charleston County, which approves the fire district's budget, the general fund budget for St. Paul's Fire District is $5,485,288 for 2015-2016.
Charleston County Council formed a 3-member committee earlier this year to look at the district's finances. According to committee member and Councilman
Dickie Schweers, the county advised the fire district they could potentially save costs by re-examining their current health care package and retirement plan. Schweers said state law prevents the council from raising taxes beyond a certain mileage.
According to county officials, Awendaw Fire starts fire fighters at a comparable rate at $9.23 per hour. Their firefighter/engineer positions start at $10.99 per hour.
Advocates still said they want action and answers in the name of responders' and public safety.
"We have lives in the community that need protection," Rev. Eric Mack, said "and our firefighters are there to do that. We want to make sure we take care of them."
"Our fire department workers, they not only deserve this," Pastor Thomas Dixon said. "They've earned the right to have a living wage and a better than fair living wage because when we call them, they come."
Community groups have scheduled a meeting for locals on Tuesday, April 19th at 6:30pm. The meeting will take place at the St. Paul's Fire District, Station 1 (6448 Hwy. 162, Hollywood, SC 29449).