West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) – The automatic aid agreements that’s employed by the multiple fire departments in Lexington County showed its worth again Sunday night at a house fire in West Columbia. When the fire in the 1700 block of Holly Hill Drive was dispatched around 9:00 p.m. Sunday, June 28, 2020, firefighters and equipment from three separate but equally equipped and trained fire departments automatically were sent. Lexington County EMS immediately was dispatched as well. When the fire went to a second alarm for manpower, that automatically brought the fourth department into the mix.
For years, fire services had mutual aid agreements. Mutual aid, unlike auto aid, required a fire commander to request assistance from other surrounding departments. Of course, once asked, those departments would quickly send help. Sometimes, this could cause long delays from when help was asked for and when the assistance arrived. Jurisdictional boundaries were sometime set in stone and crossing those boundaries, often referred to as jumping calls, could cause a great deal of resentment between departments depending on where you were.
With auto agreements, those jurisdictional walls fell. In this arrangement, the closest firefighters are automatically dispatched to a call. That’s what happened in West Columbia Sunday night on Holly Hill Drive. When the call was received at Lexington County’s 911 Center, they sent West Columbia’s Fire Department, several stations from the Lexington County Fire Service, and the Irmo Fire District. Lexington County EMS also sent medical personnel in case someone got injured at the fire. When the second alarm for additional manpower was transmitted, Cayce’s Department of Public Safety responded with more assistance from the three departments that were already on scene. An on-call duty officer, alerted automatically, began moving equipment and manpower to stations tied up so no area ever went without fire protection.
On Holly Hill, officers from the West Columbia Police Department were already on scene when the first fire truck arrived. Firefighters had been alerted by the officers that there were flames coming from the home. West Columbia’s battalion chief arrived and confirmed that the garage of the home was well involved and spreading. Neighbors were concerned that an elderly resident could be trapped inside the house.
Equipment and manpower from the other departments began pulling up. Teams were put together that could search the home for anyone while others began fighting the fire or connecting to a fire hydrant for water supply. When the commander asked for the second alarm, the additional help he needed arrived quickly.
Early in the fire fight, aerial ladder trucks were able to drop water down on the main fire from high above it. As soon as they had the flames knocked down, others were able to finish putting the fire completely out. Thankfully, no one was home at the time of the fire.
Even though the home was well involved when the fire was dispatched, the resources from the four departments worked seamlessly to help one another. Because of the auto aid agreements, more help arrived faster, and West Columbia’s crews didn’t have to fight the fire alone. This not only helped put the fire out faster, it makes the fight fighting much safer for everyone involved.
The cause of the Holly Hill fire is still under investigation by fire marshals from the West Columbia Fire Department. An estimate of the extensive damages to the garage and home has not yet been released.