SPRINGFIELD — Growth in Effingham County is spreading like wildfire and Effingham County Fire & Rescue is working feverishly to stay ahead of it.
Chief Clint Hodges’ department has expanded by 12 positions over the past year, allowing it to have a minimum of 11 firefighters per shift.
“The growth is one of the driving forces behind it,” Hodges said, “and we were able to add two fire stations because of those personnel.”
When it comes to planning, Hodges and the Effingham County Board of Commissioners look five, 10 and 15 years ahead.
“When you start upgrading fire stations, you are doing more than that,” Hodges said. “You are making sure it is right where it needs to be, not just for now but 15 years from now so that you won’t have to duplicate efforts in the future.”
Hodges said Ga. Hwy 30 and Kolic Helmey Road are two area that a mushrooming particularly rapidly.
“In the future, I think (growth) will start pushing up Highway 80 as well,” Hodges said. “It’s pushing into Bloomingdale pretty hard right now. I think it’s just going to keep going up Highway 80.”
To keep up with the surge, Effingham County Fire & Rescue has a trio of fire engines on order. Its fleet includes 15 engines, eight tankers and a ladder truck that are spread among more than a dozen stations.
“The commissioners have been very supportive,” Hodges said. “We have a fleet replacement program to make sure that we keep our equipment in good shape. As a matter of fact, one of the trucks they replaced is a 1980s model.
“We try to maintain the equipment in excellent shape but when it reaches a point that it is just cost efficient to replace (a fire engine) we will do so.”
Effingham County Fire & Rescue personnel undergo extensive training each year to learn the latest firefighting techniques and gird their knowledge of old ones.
“We place a large emphasis on training,” Hodges said. “A lot of our members got more than 240 hours of training last year.”
Two hundred forty hours in an annual Insurance Services Office (ISO) benchmark for fighters, Hodges said.
“We are trying to maximize that because the more training we do the more it helps everybody’s (homeowners) insurance rates,” Hodges said. “Also, we have a lot of optional extracurricular training opportunities that we offer and a lot of them were funded through the federal government. We have a lot of hazardous materials courses that were out of state that they paid for the course and our people’s travels, meaning their was no money expended by the county.”
Hodges believes a recent ISO inspection of Effingham County went well. The county currently has two ratings — Class 4 (for buildings within five miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant) and Class 4Y (for buildings within five miles of a fire station without a nearby hydrant).
Effingham County Fire & Rescue, which recently absorbed the unincorporated portion of the Guyton Fire Department’s service area, has a special team for handling emergencies involving hazardous materials. Its significance is likely to grow once the county’s industrial developments begin to fill.
“Many of our staff are haz-mat technicians and haz-mat specialists,” Hodges said.