YEMASSEE, S.C. (WSAV) — Volunteer firefighters are back on the job in Yemassee, after the Town of Yemassee turned over its fire department to Hampton County to fund and operate about six months ago.
The Yemassee station was not staffed with the unpaid volunteers until recently, and instead had the firefighters respond to calls from Cummings and Sheldon. That’s when NEWS 3 heard some of the community’s concerns over longer response times. Now, there are 13 volunteers who operate out of Yemassee, though they aren’t waiting in place around the clock.
Hampton County is still over the Yemassee firefighters. The county has also spent about $50,000 on engine improvements and new gear for firefighters, according to Chief Adam Bishop. Bishop says that’s money that the Town of Yemassee didn’t have. He says before the county took over operations, he was also the only certified firefighter there.
“Before I came on two months ago, there were no certified firefighters here. There was no one who was certified to drive the trucks here. So, now we have like I said 13 certified volunteers,” Bishop says.
“It does take us a little bit longer than it does, say a fire department that has 24/7 staffing,” he says. Bishop estimates the response times to calls in town to be about seven or eight minutes, after volunteers get off of work at their other jobs after 5 p.m.
“Those of us that live close to the station, we come here and pick up the trucks and meet the rest of them on scene,” he says.
Bishop says it also means a better ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating. He says the rating went to a 10 from a 5, at the time the town had Hampton County takeover. The higher the rate, the more homeowners within the town pay on insurance yearly. Bishop says the change would have equated to hundreds of dollars more in insurance for citizens. Now under the county, the rate has dropped back to 5.
“The Town of Yemassee, up until the last two months, has not had an operational fire department I’d say for at least the last two years,” Bishop says.
He still hopes to recruit more volunteers and begin fundraising. There’s a community BBQ event on July 9.
“We’re working as hard as we can to provide [citizens] the service they deserve. But we can’t do it on our own. I understand that Hampton County has taken over the operations of the fire department, but it’s my personal belief that this fire department still belongs to this town, and the citizens need to understand that. The citizens need to help,” he says.