Will council ax fire department?

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Council scheduled to vote on fate of Pleasant Hill department

By Chris Sardelli

Lancaster County Council may decide the fate of the Pleasant Hill Volunteer Fire Department at its meeting Monday night.

The Lancaster County Fire Commission has recommended that the department be closed. The commission, made up of representatives from the 19 fire departments in the county, says the station is not in compliance with county standards.

But County Council has final say on whether to ax the department or not.

During its July 6 meeting, council spent more than two hours on the issue.

Pleasant Hill residents and Pleasant Hill Chief Danny Bennett pleaded with council to keep the department open.

Morris Russell, director of both Lancaster County Emergency Management and Lancaster County Fire Service, argued that the department be closed, as did Robert Baker, new chairman of the county fire commission.

Russell told council that the department has not complied with requirements requested as far back as 2006. He cited  lack of proper documentation required by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO) and disregard for established standard operating guidelines as problems.

Based on ISO ratings, which consider a variety of factors in fire departments, including training, equipment, manpower, water availability and compliance, the Pleasant Hill department had received the worst rating in that area – 8 on a scale where 10 is the worst possible rating.

Russell has said that the Pleasant Hill department is not needed, as there are departments, such as the departments in Rich Hill and Heath Springs, within a 5-mile radius of that community.

Baker told council the commission tried to work with the department to get its record-keeping problems corrected, but the department resisted those efforts.

But Pleasant Hill Chief Danny Bennett told council that the department has done much work in the past 18 months to correct its record-keeping problem.

James Edward Adams Jr., a former chief of the department, asked council to give the department more time. Adams said the paperwork could be brought up to date within six months.

After the discussion at the July 6 meeting, council voted 4-2 in favor of moving the issue of closing the fire department to an action item at its next meeting. Council members Jack Estridge and Kathy Sistare cast the dissenting votes.

County Administrator Steve Willis said residents may speak during the public comments portion of the meeting Monday night. Council is scheduled to vote later in the meeting on the fate of the department.

Other business

Council will also consider first reading of an ordinance that would impose a moratorium on the issuance of permits for billboards along S.C. 9 Bypass and U.S. 521.

Willis said council is considering another ordinance that could change the billboard laws in the county, but in the meantime decided this ordinance might be needed to halt the creation of further billboards until the laws are changed countywide.

There will also be a vote on a request to allow council’s finance committee to approve bid packages that come through for construction on the new courthouse.

This will allow the committee, comprised of Estridge and Councilman Rudy Carter, to approve bids without requiring a special council meeting.

There will be a closed session at the end of the meeting to discuss a contractual matter.

Council will meet at 6 p.m. in council chambers at the Lancaster County Administration Building.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416