Columbia Firefighter: Raise is Necessary for Public Safety

There's an going debate at Richland County Council over a proposed firefighter pay raise.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The Columbia Fire Department proposed funding a pay raise for firefighters who have a starting salary of about $29,000.

Tuesday night, the Columbia City Council voted 4-2 to approve a new budget, which includes their portion of the money for the fire department. But the Richland County Council is still finalizing its budget plans for the next fiscal year.

In the last fiscal year, the Columbia Fire Department lost about 50 firefighters, according to Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins. He says it's partly due to the amount they're being paid.

For a local fireman, the lack of funding poses a public safety concern.

"The department is having us ride short sometimes," says Victor Kemper a fireman and member of the Columbia Firefighter Association. "I've been informed by someone today on shift that we're riding 8 trucks short today and that means 8 trucks only have 3 firemen."

He's worried this has been the case more times than not. For the three firefighters responding, they have to perform the duties of what a fourth person would do.

"I think this is a good start. It's enough money to stabilize things as they stand it's certainly not going to bring anyone back, but we will hopefully be able to fix the tide of men leaving" says Kemper.

Council members are still torn over this issue.

"When someone is coming in your home or climbing a ladder to save you, your family, your kids, your pet you want it to be someone who is well trained and has a lot of experience. Right now other departments in other states and other counties around the state are taking our best and brightest because we're not paying enough" says Councilman Seth Rose.

"We have to look at it all inclusive, because the increase will only go to the city of Columbia firefighters, not the Richland County firefighters, so we just want to make sure that we're looking at the entire fire department," says County Chairman Torrey Rush.

He thinks this is a band-aid for a bigger problem using the one time dollars to fund salaries that don't make financial sense.

The Richland County is expected to vote on the next fiscal year budget on June 22.


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