FEMA awards county $1 million

The county’s fire service is set to receive a boost in manpower from a recently awarded federal grant that will help fund 10 paid firefighters.

Lancaster County Fire Marshal Stephen Blackwelder confirmed the grant Thursday, Dec. 27.

“The fire service just received a $1 million grant for paid firefighters during the daytime hours,” Blackwelder said.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website, a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant in the amount of $1,012,696 was awarded to the Lancaster County Fire Service on Dec. 21.

Lancaster County Fire Service Director Morris Russell applied for the SAFER grant in the fall as a means to help ease the burden on the county’s volunteer firefighters.

“The volunteers do a great job, but they needed additional help in the daytime,” Russell said. “This should help that situation.”

Funded by FEMA, the two-year grant will cover 100 percent of the costs for personnel, including salary and benefits, though once it ends, those costs will need to be picked up by the county.

County Administrator Steve Willis said the grant will be used to staff 10 paid firefighters on a rotating basis at fire departments countywide. The grant will allow the fire service to hire eight firefighters, as well as one paid captain and lieutenant.

“If there are firefighters who are sick or on vacation, others can fill in and the goal is to have eight on (duty) all the time,” Willis said.

The plan is to divide the county into four zones (north, south, west and east), with two paid firefighters rotating days at each station in those zones.

“Daytime firefighters are a big safety issue thing, of course, but this will also help make sure all the equipment is tested,” Willis said. “It’s a big chunk of time for volunteer firefighters to raise money, fight fires and still raise a family.”

The paid firefighters will be responsible for testing ladders, pumps and hoses at the various volunteer departments, and will also help with building inspections and routine inspections on trucks, Willis said.

Russell will speak at Lancaster County Council’s meeting Jan. 14 to ask for final acceptance of the grant. He will also discuss the grant’s future and ask for funding for non-covered items such as uniforms, equipment and extra pickup trucks for each two-firefighter team.

“The goal is to continue this program. Nobody wants to put the program in place and then quit after two years,” Russell said. “This is a beginning, not a final solution, and hopefully we’ll see the needs in the county and we’ll see how well it works.”

Once County Council approves acceptance of the grant, the fire service will begin the hiring process.

“The day they tell us yes, there will be an ad in the paper the next day,” Russell said.

The county’s fire service was one of 34 fire services, districts or departments nationwide to be awarded a SAFER grant last week. Other South Carolina agencies also awarded grant funds last week include Colleton County Fire Rescue in Walterboro and Horry County Fire/Rescue in Conway.

About SAFER grants

SAFER grants were created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities.

The goal of SAFER is to enhance local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response, and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For more details about the grant, visit NFPA.org/SAFERActGrant.

By Chris Sardelli, Staff Reporter with The Lancaster News