Carla McCorkle dries one of the fire trucks at the North Columbia Fire and Rescue Department Leah station. North Columbia Fire and Rescue recently hired its first full-time firefighters.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
For the first time, residents in the northwestern rural areas of Columbia County are protected by full-time firefighters.
North Columbia Fire and Rescue recently hired three paid, full-time firefighters, who are ranked engineers. They will work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a firefighter being stationed in three of the department's four divisions.
"This is a historic time for that part of the county," said Pam Tucker, the director of the county's Emergency Services division.
The firefighters were hired in compliance with the amended fire service agreement the department entered into with the county during the summer.
"The county does maintenance on all the fire trucks,'' Tucker said. "That was able to relieve their budget so they can use that money to pay for firefighters."
North Columbia Chief Tom McFarland said the three firefighters - Carla McCorkle, Leah Division; John Payne, Appling Division; and Keith Shomber, Winfield Division - spent their first week washing and checking trucks to make sure they are stocked and ready to go, cleaning stations and conducting other duties between calls.
McCorkle spent six years as a volunteer for the Leah Volunteer Fire Department, and then North Columbia Fire and Rescue after the volunteer departments from Leah, Winfield and Appling merged in March. She left a job at the Little River Roadhouse to work for the department full-time.
"I love doing it," McCorkle said. "It's in my blood. I love helping people out. I eat, sleep and breathe it."
The goal of the merger was to provide paid full-time fire personnel in the area, Chief McFarland said.
The firefighters rotate between the fire stations in their division. Once they are familiar with the division, they'll switch to another one.
"We want them to learn what we have got in their particular divisions," McFarland said.
"Then we'll swap them because we want them to be proficient in whatever division they are in."
McFarland said the new hires are a big step for the formerly all-volunteer department.
"We're pretty thrilled about it," McFarland said. "It's quite a milestone."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.