Horry County fire chief hopefuls bring different experience, expertise to the table

bdickerson@thesunnews.comOctober 5, 2012 

— Horry County’s next fire chief will find himself at the head of an agency with more than 300 firefighters, aging equipment and issues retaining volunteers.

So, what do the top three candidates still in the running for the position bring to the table?

Frederick Crosby has been with Virginia’s Hanover County Fire-EMS for 25 years, currently serving as chief.

According to his resume, Crosby’s department covers 512 square miles, has 152 employees and over 1,000 volunteers operating from 16 stations and works with an annual budget of over $14 million.

Crosby said what’s important to him is providing the community with the best resources possible, which includes being involved in that community.

Over the summer, Hanover’s 35th annual tomato festival was dedicated to the county’s fire rescue department for its service to the community, according to an article from The Mechanicsville Local.

Crosby, who said he started as a volunteer firefighter at 16, is now 51 and looking at what the next chapter in his life will be.

He said he and his family have been coming to the Grand Strand over the past 25 years for vacation, and decided to consider the area home.

“It’s an area we’ve always loved,” Crosby said.

Since he’s gotten his time in at Hanover, Crosby’s ready to take on the challenges of overseeing a new department.

Like former Horry County Chief Garry Alderman, Crosby recently confronted proposed budget cuts to Hanover County Fire-EMS during its recent budget cycle.

“The core values I’m referring to are we now have two personnel on a truck to answer a call in certain parts of the county, and fire equipment that is currently on a 16-year replacement cycle will go to 30 years,” Crosby was quoted in the April 4, 2012 edition of The Mechanicsville Local as saying.

In April, Alderman went before the members of an Horry County Fire Ad Hoc Committee and asked them to consider a 4.5 millage property tax increase to fund more staff positions and replace aging fire engines.

That request was not included in the county’s 2013 fiscal year budget.

Crosby admits he hasn’t had a chance to completely dive in to a study of Horry County Fire Rescue and learn about the challenges and needs the department has.

“The fire department’s got a really good reputation,” Crosby said. “As far as I understand, it’s not like it’s broken.”

Easley Fire Chief H.P. “Butch” Womack also is unfamiliar with the challenges Horry County Fire Rescue faces. However, what he wants to bring to the position is personality and morale boosting.

Womack also cites himself as a believer in joint training and other ventures.

“(I like) doing things together with other departments, and especially the public,” he said. “We like to really face the public and get the word out.”

One way firefighters get out amongst the public is the Easley Fire Department’s Boot Drive.

This event raises money to benefit the Jeff Chavis House, which offers free stays to family members of patients being treated at the Augusta Burn Center, according to The Easley Progress. Last year’s boot drive raised over $7,000.

Womack and his firefighters also do talks at area schools, in an effort to recruit future volunteers.

He added that this technique has led to 10 recruits who have moved up through the ranks and gone on to full-time status over the past four years.

If Womack becomes Horry County’s next fire chief, he hopes this recruiting technique would be on a larger scale.

Like fire officials in Horry County and nationwide, Womack believes the biggest challenge in retaining volunteers is all the training that’s required of them.

Womack says those in the fire service are going to have to work around volunteers’ schedules and train them on their time.

His experience in Horry County stems from serving on the board of the South Carolina Firefighters Association and meeting with local fire officials

“I love the area, and the challenge of a larger department to spread my expertise,” Womack said.

Womack has served as fire chief in the city of Easly for 19 years, according to his resume. He’s also worked as a reserve officer for both the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and the city of Pickens Police Department.

James Crawford, assistant fire chief for Midway Fire Rescue in Pawleys Island, came to the Grand Strand in 2010 after almost 20 years of service to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire.

In 2007, he was named as Pittsburgh Fire’s assistant chief, a position that saw him manage 650 uniformed firefighters that served 350,000, according to his resume.

Crawford didn’t want to make a lot of comments about his candidacy, specifically because of his local employment.

He did discuss the issue of volunteer firefighters, and how their numbers are dropping. Crawford said the national economy, where people are having to work two or three jobs to survive, has made it tough to maintain volunteerism across the board.

“It is an aspect that a fire chief would have to be very concerned about,” Crawford said.

He added he likes using resources within his own organization, and would bring strategic planning to the role of Horry County fire chief.

As far as other experience, Crawford was a deputy fire chief with the U.S. Air Force Fire Department. He’s also written articles for Firehouse magazine and Firehouse.com

“I’m very honored to be part of the final three candidates,” Crawford said.

Horry County officials hope to make their final decision within the next two weeks.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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