SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County Fire & Rescue’s continuous effort to meet the needs of a growing population is becoming more evident.
New fire stations are set to be built in two key spots — across from Belmont Glen on Hodgeville Road and in Guyton.
“We should be seeing some vertical construction on (the Hodgeville Road station) in about six weeks,” Effingham Fire & Rescue Chief Clint Hodges said.
Construction started there months ago but it ceased after some foundation work because the company responsible for the project encountered financial difficulty. A new company has taken over.
The new Guyton facility will be located on Ga. Hwy 119 just south of the downtown roundabout.
“Hopefully, we will see ground broken on that in June,” Hodges said.
The Guyton station will be in a perfect spot.
“You can almost throw a baseball and hit the roundabout (from the new location),” Hodges said. “You are going to be right there so you can go north, south east or west and you don’t have to worry about navigating little side streets,” Hodges said.
Effingham Fire & Rescue has been operating from the former Guyton Fire Station on 6th Avenue for nearly two years. The City of Guyton ceded fire services to Effingham Fire & Rescue in 2019.
“(The new station) is a good thing for Guyton because it frees up the building for the city to use it for their Public Works Department, which they really needed,” Hodges said.
Hodges’ department needs its new spaces, too, because its call volume is increasing “drastically.”
“Like everybody else’s,” Hodges said, referring to other public safety agencies in the county.
Population growth is driving the number of calls, he explained. Calls jumped 19 percent in 2021 and are up about 7 percent this year with the expected busy period (August-December) months away.
“We know it’s coming,” Hodges said. “Development is coming. Population increases are coming.
“It’s not something that is unexpected.”
Hodges expressed gratitude for the Effingham County Board of Commissioners providing Effingham Fire & Rescue for the resources it needs to do its job effectively.
“They have been very supportive of us and we can’t say enough good things about that,” he said.
Thanks to a board decision, the Hodgeville Road station will have a new fire engine that Effingham Fire & Rescue just received. It is currently being kept in Springfield.
“And we have three new fire engines on order,” Hodges said.
It is likely months will pass before they arrive, however.
“It’s a year process to get a truck,” said Capt. Ryan Morris, who keeps Effingham Fire & Rescue’s fleet in top running shape.
Hodges said the lengthy wait is due to high demand. He said many departments in the country are in need of trucks after putting their capital needs on the back burner during the Great Recession.
Akin to his praise for commissioners, Hodges lauded the people under his command.
“We have some of the most dedicated staff and volunteers here,” he said. “To be successful, it takes having everybody on board and I can’t say enough good things about our people.”
Hodges said Effingham County Fire & Rescue is a great place to work.
“One of the things that we have going for us in fire service is that it’s like a family,” he said. “It is a job — don’t get me wrong — but is also like family because these guys spend a lot of time together when they are not at work.”
Although the department boasts a positive working environment and uses top-of-the-line equipment, it occasionally struggles to fill jobs when they come open.
New employment opportunities will likely be created in 2023 when Effingham Fire & Rescue claims an area currently served by the Rincon Fire Department, which is set to confine its coverage to Rincon’s city limits.
“I am in preparation for that,” Hodges said. “I anticipate some new hires and right now it is just challenging. We have a great relationship with our neighboring fire departments and they are facing the exact same thing.
“It is tough to get applicants. It’s just a small pool of applicants that really want to be a public servant. We are all trying to get them out of that same small pool.
“We try to do it without stealing (employees) from each other. All that does is hurt your neighbor.”
Hodges said he will become more aggressive in his pursuit of employees in a couple months.
“We’ll be getting out there as we have a new recruit school that is going to start July 1 in our new budget year,” he said. “We are going to be out recruiting, trying to get anybody who is interested and wants to apply. We provide all the training in-house.
“It’s nationally certified, state certified, but it’s all provided in-house at no cost to the applicant.”
Effingham Fire & Rescue will be present at a post-graduation job fair at South Effingham High School in June.
“Here lately, our newer guys came straight out of high school,” Hodges said. “They’ve turned out to be fantastic employees.”
Effingham Fire & Rescue currently has 44 firefighters, including four females. Hodges said women are always welcome to apply.
“Having a good representation of everybody in your community is valuable, not just to this organization but to the community itself,” Hodges said.
Firefighter applicants must be at least 18 years and have no felony convictions in the past 10 years.