Berkeley Co. Council hears recommendations to improve fire service

. - People who live in rural Berkeley County have inadequate fire service, according to consultants hired to study the 26 fire districts.

Consultants from Manitou Incorporated, are laying it all out before Berkeley County Council Monday night, with recommendations for a fix.

Manitou says problems include bad record keeping, lack of training, antiquated equipment, deteriorating fire stations, lack of volunteers and poor funding. That means dispatch can't send one just one fire department when a fire breaks out.

An example of that is an August fire in Wando, where multiple departments were dispatched to a fire at a waterfront home that burned to the ground.

Funding is an issue facing these struggling volunteer departments. Fire funding in Berkeley County falls below counties of comparable size, according to Manitou's independent fire study.

Consultants say a possible fix is to change the way the county funds the 25 departments in the 26 rural fire districts.

That would mean changes for some residents and how they pay for fire service.  Some residents would keep the current special fee based on square footage, but others could pay a tax based on the value of the property at risk.

Consultants are recommending the county collect that fee, and oversee training, equipment, and track performance in each fire district, some of which are "teetering on the edge of ceasing operations."

Fire districts could be re-drawn based on response time and capabilities.

Manitou also told council members that 11 fire departments did not provide requested information, prompting council to ask why they are getting a report with all of the information necessary to make decisions.

One council member said he was upset Manitou could not provide a full accounting of what was owed.

Overall, Manitou proposed three options: that no changes are made, an option they do not recommend; that the county gains oversight over the fire service, or that the county takes over all fire service.

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