Rising costs drive S.C. firefighters out of communities

VIDEO: Rising costs drive S.C. firefighters out of communities

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As rental and home prices increase throughout the state, some firefighters say they can’t afford to live in the communities they work in.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina’s annual mean wage in 2019 was $36,360, one of the lowest in the country.

Bill Pesature, the vice president of the Professional Firefighters Association of SC, says salaries for firefighters have not kept up with the cost of living.

“They can’t live where they work anymore. It just doesn’t happen,” Pesature said. “You need to raise your rates for what you pay people and take care of your people. Retention is vital.”

Pesature also says many firefighters are leaving the state for better pay, and investments aren’t being made into the people who have been in fire departments for a long time. Instead, money is being used to train new people.

Justin Lenker, the president of Midway Professional Firefighters Association Local 3617 and a firefighter with Midway Fire Rescue, says their salaries tend to be lower, and the cost of living on Pawley’s Island is about 11% higher than surrounding areas.

“Departments around us have increased salaries, but they’re still low enough that some guys have to have two, three part time jobs to sustain,” Lenker said. “We have guys that live in the northern end of Horry County that have to drive almost an hour to work every third day.”

Although protecting the community won’t change regardless of the amount of money the make, Lenker says it is a lot harder for firefighters to invest in communities they don’t live in.

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