SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County Fire & Rescue has shouldered a heavier workload without breaking a sweat.
Led by Chief Hodges, the department absorbed fire services for the City of Guyton late last year.
“It’s been very smooth,” Hodges said about the transition. “As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been the first hiccup or anything.”
Effingham County Fire & Rescue picked up the additional responsibility after the Guyton Fire Department encountered problems maintaining proper staffing last summer. It is providing a higher level of service without an increase in fire fees for Guyton residents.
“I think things have worked out well for everybody,” Hodges said.
Effingham County Fire & Rescue is currently working out of the former Guyton Fire Department building. However, a new station is on the horizon.
“It’s in the design phase,” Hodges said.
The new station will be located in the center of town near the roundabout, giving fire trucks quick access to Ga. Hwys 17 and 119.
Much has changed for Effingham County Fire & Rescue since it was formed out of six separate departments 20 years ago. At that time, Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings in Effingham County averaged 6-9 on a scale with 10 being the worst score possible.
Today, the county’s ISO rating is 3/3Y, resulting in a tremendous cost savings in fire insurance for homeowners and businesses.
ISO rates fire departments across the nation based on alarm receiving and communications, water supply distribution, fire station locations, equipment and manpower.
Effingham County Fire & Rescue handled a record number of calls in 2019.
“And based on what we see this year, we are going to set another record,” Hodges said
Effingham County Fire & Rescue tries to reduce the number of fires in the county through a youth education program Hodges described it as “pretty robust.”
“We see all the pre-K students and first and second graders,” he said, “and this past year we implemented a third-grade program.”
Before a trial run of the program started a couple years ago, third graders at Marlow Elementary School averaged in the 60s on a first-prevention test. After completing the program, all averaged in the high 90s, the chief said.
“It was obviously effective so we rolled it out to all the third graders this past year,” Hodges said. “It’s making an impact and probably contributing to fewer fires. It’s also making an impact on what to do during emergencies.”
Effingham County Fire & Rescue features 44 full-time employees and about 45 volunteers.
Tuesday evening training sessions for volunteers recently resumed. Their were suspended for several weeks because of social distancing guidelines necessitated by COVID-19.
“We have a really healthy base of volunteers, a very dedicated base,” Hodges said. “Obviously, though, we always looking for new people who are willing to serve the community.”
Effingham County Fire & Rescue provides the training and necessary equipment at no cost to the volunteers.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way all members of Effingham County Fire & Rescue — the volunteers and full-time employees— approach their jobs.
“The main way it affected us was that we took as many precautions for safety as we could,” Hodges said. “We try to keep as much distance as we can in the emergency services field. We also use a lot of PPE (personal protection equipment) and decontamination procedures.
“Still, any call that is made gets responded to.”
In situations that aren’t life threatening, firefighters make assessments and wait for Effingham County EMS to arrive.
“If we think anything might be life threatening, though, we go right through the door and don’t wait on anything,” Hodges explained.
Unlike many other agencies in the area, Effingham County Fire & Rescue has had no trouble supplying its personnel with PPE.
“I think we started collecting it little bit earlier than some other counties,” Hodges said. “Luckily, when you had these supply-chain shortages, we had connections through private vendors and other supply channels where we have never had to want for anything.
“We have been able to get anything we needed.”