Old Fort Fire against Dorchester County's decision to terminate contract, residents concerned

VIDEO: Old Fort Fire against Dorchester County's decision to terminate contract, residents concerned

DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Some Jedburg and Knightsville area residents are upset that a fire station that served them for nearly 30 years will no longer be in service at the beginning of next year.

In November, Dorchester County Council unanimously voted to not renew the contracts for three Old Fort Fire Stations. The contracts last 5 years.

Dorchester County Fire and Rescue will cover those areas. It's all part of the county's plan to unify and improve fire and rescue services that started back in 2013.

Concerned citizens gathered at the Old Fort Fire Station on Orangeburg Road, also known as the Knightsville station. Many of them don't want to see the station go away and they plan to try to do something about it.

Right now there are three Old Fort Fire Stations that serve Jedburg and Knightsville areas. Starting January 18 of next year, Dorchester County Fire and Rescue will run the two stations that are county owned. One station is in The Ponds neighborhood in Summerville and the other fire station is on Highway 78. In contrast, the Knightsville station on Orangeburg road will be closed.

Commissioner of  the Old Fort Fire Department, Bill Yarborough led Thursday night's community meeting at the Knightsville Fire Station.

"It's causing problems for our firefighters, it's causing problem for the citizens here they'll have one less station to depend on, and the Town of Summerville they'll have one less station to augment their services," he said.

The meeting was to inform the community about the changes. Many were concerned about losing a station.

"We need people who already know this area and that's worked with the people before," says a local resident Larry Groover. "New firefighters coming in, I have nothing against them. I think they're going to be great eventually, but they don't have the experience yet."

Residents say they are hesitant about the change because current firefighters are familiar with the routes and buildings because the Old Fort Station has served the area for a long time. They're also concerned about longer response times.

Chairman of the Dorchester County Council, David Chinnis, says County Council voted for the changes because it will unify fire protection and reduce  the costs of protection for residents and some insurance ratings.

"This means that the fire service is going to be better and partially because an automatic aid agreement with the town of Summerville," Chinnis said.

An automatic aid agreement means when a fire happens and alert will go to all stations and the closest station will respond, according to Chinnis. This is regardless if the place is in the town or county. For example when the Knightsville Fire Station is gone, the Summerville Fire Department, about a mile away, will respond to some of those area calls. In addition, when a truck leaves the station and creates a vacancy other nearby departments will be prepared to step in, in the case of another emergency at the same time.

"I don't really believe anyone looks at the door of the truck, they just want to make sure that red truck rolls up and that guy in turnout gear with a hose, gets out and is ready to fight that fire," Chinnis said. "That's the most important thing."

Chinnis says when the changes are made, three first responders will be required to be on the truck when responding to emergency calls. He says that's not always the case now.

Yarborough feels there is still a lost for the community, he says especially because there are four schools surrounding the Knightsville station.

"We could cover these schools very good, we're going to leave a hole, when this happens in this area," Yarborough said. "This station will go away, Summerville is going to have to cover it by themselves and we'll have to wait for other units to respond elsewhere."

About 18 Old Fort firefighters work at the three stations seeing changes. County officials say they will be able to apply for jobs when the county takes over the two stations in their coverage area.

"[It's] always been a contract area, it's always been a Dorchester County responsibility, but we simply contracted it," Chinnis said. "We believe at this point in time that the capabilities with Dorchester County Fire and Rescue, with where they have come in the three years....since inception that we can provide those services."

Officials at the Old Fort Fire Station on Orangeburg Road say they  are going to continue to have public meetings on Thursday at 7 p.m. to spread the word about the change.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. All Rights Reserved.