A fatal accident on Oak Level Road earlier this month has Bryan County residents concerned about fire department staffing and response times.
Mary Hewlett, who lives near where Steven Robinson and Domonick Bush died after the vehicle Robinson was driving veered off the road and struck a tree on June 4, spoke at the Board of Commissioners meeting June 21 about her concerns.
“The county has grown by leaps and bounds, but our services have not kept up,” she said.
Hewlett told commissioners she was the one who called 911 the night of the accident, and it took 20 minutes for first responders to reach the scene.
“I realize even if the fire department was right there that there’s nothing that could have been done to save those boys,” she said. “But the family had to stand there and watch. It was agony.”
Hewlett said that in the past two weeks, she has collected 250 petition signatures asking the county to staff all of its fire stations 24 hours a day. The station near WaterWays Township at the end of Oak Level Road, for example, is unmanned.
“We’re all poor and I’m not asking you to raise taxes, but if you have to we’d pay it because our homes and our families are worth it,” she said.
Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said the first priority of any government is public safety.
“We’re no longer an all-volunteer department, but we have to keep up with growth while keeping taxes low,” Burnsed said.
County Administrator Ben Taylor said emergency-services funding has increased 23 percent in the last three years, from slightly more than $3 million to $3.8 million. Taylor said Bryan County also ranks second in the region, behind Camden County, in per-capita spending for fire and EMS.
Bryan County Emergency Services currently has 46 full-time and 27 part-time employees.
“Of the 10 fire stations countywide, five are manned 24 hours a day and those are in the most populated area,” Taylor said. “The rest are manned 12 hours a day or with volunteers.”
Taylor added that the county is planning to replace two stations — on Daniel Siding Road and Highway 144 at Belfast River Road — in the next few years and continue to add equipment and personnel.
Three new positions were added last year, and the county is currently accepting applications for two more.
“Our goal is to have all stations manned 24 hours a day, and we’re working toward that,” Burnsed said.