Firefighter turnover affects taxpayers, firehouses

Greenville SC FD patch

SOUTH CAROLINA – When you call 911, how much do you know about the first responders that race to your door.

In a 7 News Investigation Brianna Smith found out that the continuous turnover in firehouses is not only draining your tax dollars, but it could also affect the quality of the response when you need it most.

“It’s not hard to fill a firefighter position, it’s hard to fill one with a dedicated, trained, individual,” said Boiling Springs Fire Chief Scott Miller.

Right now your tax dollars are funding a poaching problem, chiefs are seeing their firefighters recruited while they are on emergencies helping other agencies.  Those agencies then get the thousand of dollars invested in training each year for each firefighter, not to mention close to three thousand dollars worth of fire protection.

Most times the turnover deals with dollars and cents, firefighters leaving for as little of an increase at $1,000.  Most times a salary increase is the only incentive they have.  That is because the department has no retention tools, as most share the same state retirement plan.

That’s why Boiling Springs and Cherokee Springs Fire Departments have entered into a non compete agreement. Agreeing not to poach, or hire each others employees.

Greenville Fire Department has their own retaining tool, by offering a retirement system through the city, that doesn’t work with the other departments.

“It makes it harder for that 10 year employee to say go work for Charleston or one of the departments that are on the state system cause they’re not portable,” says Greenville Fire Chief Stephen Kovalcik.

But does retaining firefighters really make you safer?

“It does. It makes a huge difference.the fact that they have worked together for so long, under the same roof and on the same truck, they know exactly what the procedure is going to be when they step off the truck. They know their buildings, they know their weaknesses,” says Chief Miller.

Many fire departments are looking to add contracts when they sign on, that would require them to pay back the money for equipment and training if they leave before their contract is up.