Originally created 01/12/00

Issues stall firehouse agreement



AIKEN -- After four months of negotiations on a contract to operate Sage Mill Fire Station, the Aiken County Council and the Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Volunteer Fire Department cannot agree on fee sharing and restrictions on helping other firefighting agencies.

The county is asking that fire fees collected from the residents of Sage Mill be used to defray expenses to keep up the fire station. Fire officials insist the fees, about $6,000, should be used to help cover operational costs.

"GVW depends heavily upon fees in order to render services in our district," said Jimmy Wood, president of the fire district board. "We're an all-volunteer organization, and the fees are the only revenue we receive."

The fire district pays the county a $300 fee to collect the $23 monthly fee residents in the district pay for fire protection, he said. Fees for industries are based on the size of the company.

Under a July 19996 agreement with Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina Inc., the county promised to provide a firehouse, ladder truck, pumper truck and sufficient personnel to operate the station on a 24-hour basis.

The new station has been completed since July, and the equipment stands ready to use. But the station has not become operational because the county and fire officials cannot agree on the contract.

Tuesday night, two of three members of the county's Judicial and Public Safety Committee rejected a second request by fire officials to strike fee sharing from the proposed contract.

The contract also restricts use of Sage Mill firefighting equipment to Aiken County, a provision fire officials say violates mutual aid agreements with fire departments outside the county. The committee stood firm on that issue.

Only Councilwoman Susan Giddings voted to delete provisions fire officials objected. Committee Chairwoman LaWana McKenzie and Councilman Eddie Butler voted against the fire district's request.

"We will formally respond to your request in writing," Mrs. McKenzie said. "And then the issue will be taken up by the whole council."

It has been generally agreed that the county will contract with the fire district to operate the station, although the station and the equipment would be county property. The contract calls for the fire district to perform "daily care and custodial maintenance," but the county must pay for outside maintenance services to keep vehicles and equipment in working order.

The county feels a portion of fire fees should be credited against the county's expenditures, Mr. Butler said.

Still at issue is who should be hired to operate the station. The contract calls for fire officials to employ a senior firefighter and three firefighters whose "duties and qualifications shall comply with or succeed requirements established by Aiken County."

But fire officials believe Sage Mill Fire Station lies in the fire district and the county has no jurisdiction over operations.

"Aiken County has nothing to do with hiring the personnel to run the Sage Mill Fire Station," said Grady L. Friday, fire board vice chairman, insisting that fire officials would choose qualified firefighters.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.