Rural community welcomes fire station

St. Paul’s Fire Station 7 is having its grand opening today.

Residents of St. Paul's Fire District could see their homeowner's insurance rates drop with the opening today of a new fire station.

Station 7, on S.C. Highway 174, will provide quicker emergency response times in the area, which could lead to lower rates on insurance, officials said. It is between station 5 in Adams Run and station 3, which is at Edisto Island.

"It was strategically placed to help cut response times to different parts of the area," said Charles Riddle, department health and safety officer.

The Insurance Service Office gives fire departments nationally an "ISO Rating" from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best, based on criteria such as distance between fire hydrants and amount of training. Insurance companies use those ratings when setting rates.

St. Pauls is currently a "5" in some areas and a "9" in others, Riddle said. The "9" could improve because of the new station.

The district is the second largest in the state, covering Hollywood, Meggett, Ravenel, Edisto Island and stretching from Rantowles Creek to the Edisto River, from the Dorchester County line to the town of Edisto

Beach. It provides fire protection for commercial, agricultural and residential property, First Responder medical assistance for Charleston County EMS, and rescue and hazardous material response for waterways, highways and railroads. The department relies on mutual aid from other departments.

Started in 1949 as a volunteer department, it now has 64 employees and an annual budget of $4.5 million. In the past two decades, the Fire District has continued to expand, largely due to the growing population.

"What hurts us most is hydrant locations," Riddle said. "Only 23.4 percent of our entire district has hydrants. We carry water with us or we go back to the station, fill it up there and do a tanker shuttle. In other words, we're bringing that tanker back and forth, emptying it and filling it up."

The new station, which does not have municipal water, is served by a 550-foot-deep well and a 19,000-gallon water storage tank that can be used to fill tanker trucks.

"We'll still have to do the shuttle, even with this new station, but we'll be able to get it in the trucks quicker," Riddle said.

"Considering how rural we are, being able to strategically place that type of apparatus means an awful lot," said commissioner Andrea Farrior of the water tank.

The station was built with a $1.6 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. One of the goals of the act is to improve infrastructure.

"We are blessed that we came up with stimulus funds to help us out," said the Rev. John Alston, a longtime member of the commission.

The 5,200-square-foot station, which is state-of-the-art and energy-efficient, will house two trucks and two firefighters, with room for additional trucks and firefighters during emergencies or natural disasters.

"It was miraculous how quick all this came about once we decided that we needed new stations sometime in the future," said commissioner James Hamilton. "The stimulus money was available and the next thing we knew, we were on the fast-track to getting a grant approved."

The commission has already purchased property for an eighth station in the Parkers Ferry area, Riddle said.

Station 7 could spur additional residential and commercial growth in the area, commissioners said.

"Overall, this means a lot to a rural community," Farrior said. "It helps us to have a solid infrastructure. Who knows what we'll have in this area in the future?"

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.