Reducing response time among county fire chief’s goals
By Jason Evans
OCONEE COUNTY — Oconee County Fire Chief Charlie King said 2017 was a busy year for the county’s emergency services.
King delivered a report on the year during a meeting of Oconee County Council’s Law Enforcement, Public Safety, Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday evening.
Oconee County Emergency Services isn’t a single building, he said.
“It’s a family of response organizations that are positioned throughout the county, delivering an absolutely excellent service to our citizens,” King said.
OCES includes 18 fire stations, seven rescue squads and three specialty teams.
That number includes Holly Springs Station, the first volunteer fire station brought online in more than 40 years, King said.
“Since July 18, they’ve answered 24 calls,” King said. “I can’t say enough for what that group continues to do, from starting out with nearly zero training to, within seven months, being an operational, in-service fire department. That’s been a huge player in that community in a short amount of time.”
Work continues on two new fire stations. Land has been cleared for the new Bountyland Station on South Cove Road.
“Hope to see some footings go in the ground and that station start to rise in the very near future,” King said.
He also expects the Village Creek substation to be turned over and opened up “within the next four weeks.”
King hopes to use Holly Springs’ example to recruit volunteers for the Bountyland Station.
OCES is staffed by 396 volunteers and 32 career staff.
The volunteers and career staff are all considered “team members,” King said.
In 2017, team members answered 7,599 total responses, up from 5,980 incidents in 2016, King said.
A large portion of those incidents were caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irma passing through the area in early September.
“Starting at 2 p.m. on Sept. 11 into the morning of the 12th, there were 721 calls for service answered by Roads and Bridges and Public Safety,” King said. “That’s 10 percent of our call volume annually, answered in just a little over 14 hours.”
“An incredible coordination of resources” enabled those calls to be answered, he said.
“Honorable mention goes to Roads and Bridges,” King said. “They were able to complete the initial push in just over 26 hours.”
A push is when crews are able to clear debris and open at least one lane of road access across the county.
Team members spent an average of 42 minutes at each scene over the past year, he said. The team responded to 2,698 fire-related incidents.
“A good many of those are structure fires,” King said.
The average response time was 10 minutes, 39 seconds, he said. Fourteen minutes is the National Fire Protection Association standard.
“Our goal in Oconee is to get that number below 10 minutes,” King said. “We’re working hard and really striving.”
That won’t be easy.
“It takes a lot, on an average of 7,000 calls, to lower that by one or two seconds,” King said. “Being able to lower it by another minute is a pretty outstanding feat, but we’re committed to that.”
Other OCES goals for 2018 include developing ways to retain experienced volunteers, particularly in the Pickett Post and Walhalla areas, recruiting volunteers for the new station and substation and continuing to improve ISO ratings countywide.
King said the fire investigations program investigated 54 suspicious fires last year, making three arrests.
Fire losses stood at $1,376,803 in 2017.
“It’s a pretty incredible number, the damage,” King said. “This doesn’t include contents — this is structural only.”
The year also saw four fire deaths, he said.
“It’s a number we hope to see at zero each year,” King said.
One of those deaths was from a motor vehicle accident in which the cause of death was ruled thermal, King said. The other three were from structural fires.
“None of those homes had a working smoke detector in them, which has been required in homes since 1975,” King said.
OCES provides and installs smoke detectors free of charge to residents who do not have them.
The team undertook 25,602 training hours in 2017, King said.
“Each one of our team members, career and volunteer both, averaged about 56 hours of training over the last year,” he said. “That may not sound like a lot, but that’s an entire work week away from their family, that they’re investing essentially for free to provide a service to our communities.”
Committee chairman Wayne McCall praised the OCES volunteers.
“Most people don’t realize the training you guys have to go through,” he said. “We really appreciate everything you do, especially the volunteers. I can’t say enough about them. You don’t get paid. You’re out there because you like to do it. That means a lot.”
Follow on Twitter @citizenjason5