HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - There's new information on the shrinking number of volunteer firefighters in Horry County. This is a big issue across the country and especially in Horry County where there are stations that are completely staffed by volunteers.
People say the lack of volunteers is concerning, especially with the growth in our area.
"Horry County is getting bigger and bigger," said Robert Emmons, a former firefighter who now lives in Horry County. "And the more construction you put in there, you have to turn around and cover it with either police or fire. And somehow, someway."
But while Horry County continues to get bigger, the number of volunteer firefighters is getting smaller. Right now a little more than half of the fire department is made up of volunteer firefighters. Five years ago the number was higher, as 66 percent of the department was volunteers.
If it gets to a point where there aren't enough volunteer firefighters to staff stations, then career firefighters have to cover the gaps. They have to try and handle more areas when there is a fire, which can hold them back from doing the best they can to get to you in an emergency.
Volunteer coordinator Shane Prince says the department is working to keep this from happening.
"We obviously want the quickest response times," Prince commented. "The most personnel we can possibly have. The faster you arrive to an emergency it seems like the easier to mitigate it is."
New Chief Fred Crosby has added finding more volunteers as a high priority on the department's to-do list. So much so, the department has named Prince a full-time coordinator, dedicated to bringing in and keeping volunteers.
"We're just gonna try and step in before they get to a point where we're inadequately staffed," Prince said. "And start up staffing everything we can with as many volunteers."
Prince is looking to eventually double the number of volunteers within the fire department. The first step is by eliminating some of the limitations. The department used to only accept people who wanted to eventually become career firefighters, but starting this year, the program will be open to anyone interested. Horry County wants to make it easier on you too-- as most of the training is online now.
But they're also thinking about the future, by starting a junior firefighter program. The program will allow sixteen year olds to take courses and ride along to fires. Then once they turn 18, they'll get to transition to career firefighters.
People living in Horry County say it's important for the department to take action to keep numbers up.
"My dad was one for 32 years, he was a volunteer," Emmons said. "And without that happening, you know it just who's gonna come? You call 911 and nobody comes."
Prince said Horry County Fire Rescue is committed to not letting it get to that point. The department believes this is the way to start making those big steps now, before it becomes too much of an issue.