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Berkeley Fire Department Chief talks about issues in Berkeley Fire Departments

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Earlier this week, we told you about a plan proposed by Berkeley County Councilman Ken Gunn to increase fire fees for rural property owners in the county who own undeveloped land.

The current fee is between $2 and $25 per year. Gunn is proposing raising that fee to bring them in line with what homeowners pay, between $10 and $100, depending on the number of acres.

The money would be used to fund a study to identify what the county needs to do as far as fire protection is concerned.

We sat down with Chief Timothy Stephenson of the Whitesville Rural Fire Department to talk about problems he sees within the county.

Chief Stephenson says there are urgent needs in Berkeley County Rural Fire Departments, "Fire protection is not cheap. When we go to buy something, we're talking 300K for a fire truck.  To outfit a firefighter in basic firefighting gear, it's about 6-7 thousand dollars."

He says volunteer firefighters have to pay for their own training. There are also other issues, "not being able to do physical exams. Not being about to buy essential safety equip. Not being able to provide enough equip. to provide safety to the citizens."

Ray Sedgwick owns the Canal Lakes Fish Camp in Cross, "well, that's a great concern being out here in a rural area as far as we are." He says water and fire hydrants have been installed in more rural areas, but he hopes there are enough people available to use them.

Chief Stephenson says the county fire fee has not increased in eight years, since 2005. If the public wants the latest fire protection, he believes that will have to change, "there is no way to fix the problem unless we raise taxes or increase the fire fee."

Sedgwick says he doesn't want to see that happen, "we're getting taxed to death the way things are now. So, you know if we need an increase on that, maybe the funding should be designated in that direction."

However, Sedgwick also wants firefighters to have what they need to do their job, "you have to do what you have to do to make sure you're getting protected."

Berkeley County Council is discussing increasing the fire fee for some property owners in committee right now. The full council could vote on the issue as soon as their May meeting.

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