Newly created Landrum Fire and Rescue District hopes to decrease response times, increase quality

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In an effort to update the Landrum Fire Department and improve its level of service, Chief Warren Ashmore began a push to create a special purpose district in late 2014. The bill passed the South Carolina General Assembly May 26, and was signed into law June 3 by Governor Nikki Haley.

 The newly-created Landrum Fire and Rescue special purpose district’s coverage area includes Landrum Fire Department’s current coverage area surrounding the city of Landrum, and crosses the county line into Greenville County into an estimated two square mile area south of Lake Lanier that includes portions of the 29356 zip code. Previously, that area had been covered by the Landrum Fire Department under a contract with Greenville County.

 The SPD also removed its budget of $205,701 from the City of Landrum, and is now free to create its own beginning August 1, according to Ashmore.

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 “The fire service is no longer just fire,” said Ashmore. “It’s so broad now.”

 In fact, the majority of calls answered by the Landrum Fire Department have little to do with fire. According to Ashmore, more than half of all calls are medical and motor vehicle accident related.

 While the fire department has assumed more and more responsibility, their tax has remained the same for more than 20 years. The Landrum Fire Department has operated at a rate of 10.3 mills since the early 1990s.

 “Back then it was fine,” said Ashmore on the millage rate. “We were able to run the department and pay for our trucks.”

 The increase in call volume is putting growing pressure on a staff of mostly volunteers, and accelerated wear on the trucks which near 20 years old. The cost of new fire trucks is in excess of $400,000.

 “We ran into road blocks trying to raise our millage,” Ashmore explained. “The special purpose district was the solution to that.”

 The change to a special purpose district allows the fire department to hire a paid staff to be on call at all times. This will lead to reduced response times, and increased availability.

 “You can never put a price on a volunteer. They’re instrumental,” praised Ashmore, “but it’s at a point now where we need a paid staff.”

 Volunteers will continue to be important, but the biggest change will be immediate response.

 Response times play a large role in how fire departments are rated by the Insurance Service Office. The ISO rating, in turn, has an effect on insurance premiums. Despite operating at a millage rate much lower than the state average of 23 mills, the Landrum Fire Department has recently managed to drop from four to three on the ISO’s scale of 10, with one being the best and 10 being the worst.

 If the fire department continued along the same route, equipment would deteriorate, and the level of care would drop with it, according to Ashmore.

 “The special purpose district will increase the millage, but insurance premiums will continue to drop,” said Ashmore. “Increased insurance premiums means your level of protection has dropped.”

 Ashmore predicts the millage to at least double.

 With the increased funding, the Landrum Fire Department also plans to create community programs such as CPR, first aid and fire extinguisher training.

 “We have a lot of good things already going on,” said Ashmore, “but we can do even more being here full time. It opens up a lot of avenues.”

 The special purpose district will be governed by a board of five appointed commissioners.

 Bart Winkler and Scott Owens were selected by Spartanburg County. JR Jackson and Christopher Chestnutt were appointed by Landrum’s Town Council on June 15, and Pam Hilsman will represent the former Foothills Fire Service Area.

 “This will make a huge impact on the fire service,” said Hilsman. “It will allow us to respond to medical calls and grow our fire service exponentially.”

 These commissioners, in their initial two year term, will decide the amount the millage will be increased and choose a paid fire chief, who will then select a staff of six paid fire fighters, according to Ashmore.

 Ashmore stated that a chief selected from out of Landrum’s immediate area may bring a staff with him.

 “This is the best way I could thank the people of Landrum who have been instrumental to my life, and provide the best care for them,” said Ashmore.