Public service volunteers throughout the area saved taxpayers nearly $1 million in the past year by giving their time to patrol streets and respond to emergencies, authorities say.
The highly qualified, unpaid firefighters, reserve police officers and reserve sheriff's deputies who volunteered their time to departments in Harlem, Grovetown and Columbia County served thousands of hours that would have been filled by paid personnel, authorities say.
In Grovetown, six unpaid reserve officers and 13 volunteer firefighters bolster the city's 34 member consolidated Department of Public Safety, said department Capt. Gary Owens. The city's reserve officers, who are fully certified law enforcement personnel, worked 912 duty-hours from January through November.
Owens said reserve police officers would account for more than $10,000 were they paid. Grovetown's volunteer firefighters are also state certified and serve numerous duty and training hours each year, but Owens could not provide the cost-savings they provide each year.
Owens said the volunteers are taking additional shifts to help patrol the business district during the holiday season.
"The only compensation a reserve officer gets is the satisfaction of serving their community, furthering their training and the love of the job," Owens said, adding that most hold jobs as police officers, firefighters or other first responders in other communities.
Reserve Officer Rodney Williams joined Grovetown's public safety department in September and serves about six to eight hours patrolling the streets each week. He works full time as a police officer at Savannah River Site and is a former Richmond County sheriff's deputy.
"I love interacting with the community, and being a reserve officer allows me to interact with the community in a greater capacity than just a regular citizen," he said.
Honey Shore, a spokeswoman for Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, which provides fire protection and other first response services throughout the unincorporated areas of the county, said the department's 74 volunteer firefighters served 12-hour duty shifts on 1,383 occasions in place of paid personnel and took part in more than 1,100 three hour training sessions in 2005.
Shore said exact savings figures for 2006 weren't yet available, but said they would be comparable to the 2005 numbers.
"It's a huge savings," Shore said of the $490,430 the department estimated it saved in payroll costs in 2005. She said the volunteer ranks, including her, are required to serve two 12-hour shifts at a station per month alongside the 114 paid firefighters.
"Our volunteers are different from most volunteers across the U.S.," said Martinez-Columbia Chief Doug Cooper. "Our volunteers come to work and work 12-hour shifts. They don't all respond from home."
Of the volunteer firefighters, all have either attained state certification or are in the process of becoming certified, Cooper said.
Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said reserve deputies for his department work an average of 547 hours per month and the department's All-Terrain Vehicle Unit volunteers to serve about 1,100 hours each year during special events and training exercises. Morris said in an average year the department saves about $100,000 using reserves.
If off-duty officers were called in to work overtime, the figure would rise to about $250,000, he said.
Reserves and ATV unit members "are dedicated and motivated individuals who give of their own time and energy to help make Columbia County a better place to live," Morris stated in an e-mail message.
Harlem Department of Public Safety Chief Jerry Baldwin said his city has 18 certified volunteer firefighters who save his department "a couple hundred thousand dollars a year."
Without the volunteers, he said, Harlem's department would have to hire from two to four additional firefighters to provide around-the-clock fire protection to the city.
Harlem also has a youth Explorer program for high school students interested in becoming firefighters. Teens in the program receive training throughout the year and are provided a pager to respond to scenes and help roll hoses and assist firefighters with air packs, Baldwin said.
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