Dismantling the Town of Yemassee’s Fire Department came down to the money, according to town officials; but the bottom line of some neighbors’ concerns is that help now comes from about 10 miles away.
Back in December, town fire services were taken over by Hampton County Fire. After a recent fatal fire just outside of town limits on Hill Road, some neighbors voice renewed concerns on what they call a failed service.
Currently, fire calls in the Yemassee area are handled by the county’s substation in Cummings, and the Sheldon Township Fire District.
In Friday’s fire that killed an 86-year-old woman and her dog, Cummings volunteers got to the scene first, followed by Sheldon firefighters.
The neighbors who called 911 that morning spoke with NEWS 3. They waited for help at the scene.
“It was so heated, I couldn’t [help]. I took a few steps, and the flames had me. I had to go back,” Clara Campbell says.
“The response time…ridiculous,” Sasha Richardson says. “That’s really scary, and you think of it as that might be me…that might be my mother. That might be somebody in my family.”
Hampton County Fire Chief Greg Cook says the call was received at 2:56 a.m., the first unit was in route at 2:59 a.m., and it arrived at 3:12. That’s 16 minutes.
NEWS 3 has submitted Freedom of Information Act Requests with Hampton County and Beaufort County, asking for the calls and time logs to verify when each unit arrived.
Richardson doesn’t know if having a town fire department close by would have saved the woman in this recent fire, but she thinks it would have given her a better chance of survival.
“The house was completely engulfed in flames already, it was pretty much a done deal,” she says.
She and her sister plan to petition to reinstall Yemassee Fire, or to have shift-working firefighters with the county man the Yemassee station.
“It would have been a higher percentage as far as saving her life,” Natasha Richardson says, “even some things may, could have been salvaged as far as memories, if there wasn’t a chance.”
“These guys, when they go to put their lives on the lines, they don’t think about cost, they don’t think about budget. They have families, they have children. So, if we put that into perspective, then that’s also the mindset the community needs to have as well when we think of trying to get the department back open and what it would take,” Natasha Richardson says.
Cook says he’s still in the process of staffing two firefighters on shifts at the Yemassee station. He says that in all of Hampton County, there are five paid firefighters; all others work as volunteers. He says he is currently working to get those who volunteered with Yemassee back on board with the county department.
The Mayor of Yemassee, Jerry Cook, says he hopes to discuss the situation in upcoming town meetings, to work on solutions. He says he is dissatisfied in the current situation.