Florence County attempts to fill 40 volunteer firefighter vacancies

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Florence County is short about 40 volunteer firefighters. The county fire coordinator says almost all of the departments rely on volunteers, so the massive shortage potentially puts neighbors throughout the county at risk.

The Florence County Fire Coordinator says South Lynches Fire Department has the most volunteers in the county, with 120 volunteers and just five paid staff members. He says an increase in workload and training make it difficult to recruit and keep volunteer firefighters, especially during the day.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do as a kid,” expresses Florence County Fire volunteer Noah Hendricks. “Just watching the fire trucks go by, I’ve always wanted to be the one either driving the fire truck or being in the back of the fire truck. I’ve done that. I have succeeded.”

Hendricks works full time with Windy Hill Fire, but on his off days, he volunteers to help out at the South Lynches Fire Department. Hendricks says the biggest reward is helping people in need.

“Having somebody in trouble, then all of a sudden they see a firetruck pull up, or see a volunteer firefighter pull up, the look on their face saying ‘ok’ and the sigh of relief,” says Hendricks. “There is somebody here that’s going to help the problem. That is a great feeling.”

Florence County Fire Coordinator Samuel Brockington, Jr. says overall the county has 596 firefighters. Of that total, 437 are volunteers, but the goal is to have 475 volunteers or more.

“Fire does not respect that we don’t have enough people there,” describes Brockington. “It takes two primary things to put a fire out; it’s really simple: manpower and water. It’s brutal. It’s tough. It’s hard. It’s hot. It’s nasty. Any substitute you are going to go lacking. If you don’t have the people or you don’t have the water, you’re not going to be successful.”

Brockington says being short about 40 volunteers makes it harder to follow federal requirements. OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Labor that helps set the standard and regular safe working environments in different industries.

“Our primary goal is that everybody goes home,” says Brockington. “We don’t want anybody hurt or killed.”

OSHA policy requires ‘two in, two out’ meaning, there must be two qualified firefighters outside of a fire while two are inside. There must also be 15 firefighters to manage a fire, according to Brockington.

“We accomplish that by not only having our own firefighters but using mutual aid assistance from neighboring departments as well as career firefighters in the daytime,” explains Brockington.

Brockington says daytime is much harder to recruit volunteers because of conflicting schedules. He adds that Florence County Council has addressed the needs of the fire service by investing in fire stations, engines, and equipment, but unfortunately, it still has not addressed the ability to attract enough volunteers.