Meeting held to find a solution to understaffed and poorly funded St. Paul's fire district

VIDEO: Meeting to find a solution to understaffed and poorly funded St. Paul's fire district

HOLLYWOOD, SC (WCSC) - More than 150 people came together at St. Paul's fire district station one Tuesday evening for a town hall meeting, to find a solution to the understaffed and underfunded fire district.

Ultimately, no concrete resolution was reached.

The district covers the area from Ravenel to Edisto Island to Parkers Ferry, roughly 465 square miles.

It's the second largest district in the state.

"I hate to say it, but I hope we don't have a tragedy before we can fix this," town hall organizer Jerome Heyward said.

"This department is going backwards instead of going forward," former firefighter Larry Garvin said.

Garvin, now retired, worked as a firefighter in the Lowcountry for 42 years.

Everyone at the town hall meeting agreed there's a big problem, but no one could see eye-to-eye on a solution.

"Tax payers in the rest of the county shouldn't have to pay for St. Paul's fire district," Garvin said. "St. Paul's fire district should have to pay for itself."

"It's going to take change in legislation," Heyward said.

But, district commission chairman John Alston said the state's not going to allow an increase.

"The state mandates how much we can increase our budget every year," Alston said. "They said this year we have 1.5 mill increase."

Millage is based off home or property value.
Alston said, in the district, a 1.5 mill increase equals about $170,000 dollars for the department.

Right now, St. Paul's fire district has funding set at $5 million a year. From that, the firefighters get paid about $9.72 per hour.

In the fire district, there are 65 paid firefighters and nine stations. A lot of times, only one person works at a station a shift.

Those numbers upsetting, especially to former firefighters.

"You've got a bunch of experience sitting right her at St. Paul's fire department," Garvin said.

District Chief Doc Matthews spoke about his ideas for a half-cent sales tax or a lottery to help first responders.

"It would benefit all first responders in the state," said Chief Matthews.

One woman said while everyone searches for a solution, she's started a non-profit to raise money to help the firefighters.

The answer to the lack of funding was not found Tuesday evening, but the message was clear.

"Hang-in there, we'll get it."

Alston urged people to write to state senators about allocating money for the fire district.

State representative Robert Brown sent a letter to Charleston county Tuesday, ahead of the meeting, voicing his support for additional funding for the fire district.

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