Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – The Lexington County Fire Service is currently in the process of adding a new battalion chief to their staff on each of their three shifts. Battalion chiefs are the highest-ranking fire officers stationed in the field daily that regularly respond to emergencies.
The LCFS does have other senior officers, most of whom are stationed on Ballpark Road at headquarters. These officers respond in certain situations and capacities if extra assistance is needed at an emergency. They also take turns being on-call and initiate certain management actions if the battalion chiefs are tied up on emergencies. Their daily duties normally include managing everything from fire prevention to logistics.
The county has been operating with two battalion chiefs per shift in the past. One covered what’s known as the North Region of the county and the other the South Region. The North Region chief is stationed at the Lexington Fire Station on Park Road. The other is stationed out of the new South Region Headquarters in the Lexington County Industrial Park off Charleston Highway. To date, these two officers were responsible for the 25 fire stations across Lexington County. They were assisted by nine captains per shift that are also officers. Those captains assist the battalion chiefs with the supervision of the stations, equipment, and manpower in their assigned region.
The new battalion chief, designated Battalion 3, will be stationed at the Boiling Springs Fire Station at Keisler’s Crossroads. This chief will be responsible for the Hollow Creek, Samaria, Cedar Grove, Gilbert, Fairview, Boiling Springs, Pelion, and Mack Edisto fire stations. According to Lexington County’s Fire Chief and Coordinator Mark Davis, they are currently holding the promotional process now and all three (one per shift) new battalion chiefs will come from their current staff. Davis said that the goal of the fire service is to have this chief operational by October 1st of this year.
Davis said in a recent interview that battalion chiefs respond to a host of calls ranging from structure fires to vehicle collisions. Battalion chiefs can be called upon to assist on any call that is dispatched and may be the closest Lexington County Fire Service unit to a scene. On an emergency scene, battalion chiefs have many responsibilities. These include but are not limited to being the incident commander and incident safety officer. Battalion Chiefs also need to determine if the resources responding to the call are correct or if they need to add to or cancel units that may or may not be enroute.
When the battalion chiefs aren’t responding to or on the scene of an emergencies, they still have plenty to do. Chief Davis said their non-emergent duties include daily staffing, dealing with personnel challenges, attending meetings, completing station inspections, station visits, and training both physical, practical, and online.
Chief David recently said, “Safety on the scene of any incident is the responsibility of all our personnel.” He continued by explaining that the second battalion chief assumes the role of the safety officer on working incidents. David said that this, “allows us to have an extra level of safety on these scenes. Filling the incident safety officer position, otherwise filled by the incident commander, allows the incident commander to concentrate on the assignments involved in the incident and allows them to better track our personnel on the incident scene. The incident safety officer has the ability to move around to keep a watch on the entire scene.”
Davis is slowly growing the command structure of the fire service as funding and resources allow. Most urban departments like the City of Columbia dispatch at least their first assignment equipment with a company of trained firefighters that have their own first officer on the truck. A company usually includes an equipment operator or driver, a truck officer that normally holds the rank of lieutenant or captain, and two firefighters.
In Lexington County, because of budget limitations, some rural fires require seven or eight trucks to respond to get 18 to 20 fire personnel on the scene. Some stations still respond with just two firefighters on first alarm in rural areas. The county has a goal of getting enough firefighters on an emergency scene in a specific and short amount of time so that an organized and well-managed fire attack can begin. This is key to improving the outcome of their emergency responses. As an experienced firefighter and manager, Chief Davis understands the importance of having this additional manpower in place. As a manager, Davis also understands that budget limitations have to be expected and adhered to. Basically, there are only so many dollars and Davis has to decide what's most important at the current time.
The Lexington County Council has proven time and again that they understand the need for a strong Department of Public Safety and are committed to strengthening it whenever possible, in the 2020/2021 budget. county council included additionally funding to increase the number of public safety "boots on the ground". Lexington County Council Chair Scott Whetstone has said many times that as a core function of government, the fire service, EMS, and law enforcement are high on the priority list for funding.