Being a firefighter is more than a job for Horry County’s new Fire Chief Fred Crosby.
Crosby said he was bitten by the bug at 16 when he started as a volunteer firefighter. He had planned to be an architect until he felt utterly helpless during an accident with a friend. That’s when his plans changed.
Being a firefighter, Crosby said, is who he is.
He was getting ready to retire after 34 years of service in Hanover County, Va. but neither he nor his wife were ready for full-time retirement, so it was perfect timing when the job opened in Horry County.
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“I thought this would be a great second chapter of my life,” he said.
Leslie Yancey, spokeswoman for Horry County Fire Rescue, said Crosby’s been out in the field since he started, getting to know the firefighters and the community, and he’s considered a fireman’s fire chief.
He’s been in Horry County for a month now, and said he doesn’t expect too many changes to be made in the department.
In particular, he said he won’t try to run Horry County the same as Hanover County.
“It’s a different community,” he said. “The whole expectation is different the way you go about doing business is different. Fire departments are community organizations. The key is for me to learn this community and learn what this community wants and how things work in this community. It’s not to bring Hanover here. It’s to try to make this a great place for here.”
What will likely be most notable is a different approach to volunteers. Donated time from community members won’t just be about extinguishing flames anymore.
Crosby said after the New Year, the department will open up its volunteer opportunities to the county allowing people to donate whatever skills may be helpful.
“We’re going to have opportunities for people that just want to drive, for people that just want to ride ambulances,” he said. “If you want to carry the truck to the shop, if you want to plant bushes at the firehouse, if you want to come to the office and help us do administrative tasks.”
Crosby said opening the department to more volunteers just helps his mission to help people.
“It helps with the ability of the community to respond to major incidents,” he said. “If you look at any major accidents it really is the community coming together. It’s not just public safety, we can’t do everything that people need done. When you build that network you’re building a community that’s ready for those kind of events.”
He’s already taken a look at the budget and will present different options first to Public Safety Director Paul Whitten and eventually to Horry County Council.
“I’m a fire chief,” he said. “There’s never enough in the budget for a fire chief. The fire chief thinks the fire department is the most important thing in the world.”
But, joking aside, he said, that ultimately will come down to the County Council
“I view it as I present the options to the council members and the council members decide, because they are the public’s representatives,” Crosby said. “They decide what level of service is acceptable to the public and then my job is to do the best I can with the resources they give me.
“These are really tough times for everybody and we’re being really mindful of that as we present the budget.”
His wife and four daughters are still in Virginia where his 17-year-old girl is finishing her senior year in high school. The oldest, 22, is in college at James Madison University. The Crosby’s other two daughters are ages 11 and 8.
While he said he’s still learning Horry County, he’s not exactly a newcomer to the Grand Strand. His family owns property in Garden City which they’ve visited several times a year for about 20 years.
“My wife reminded me when this job came open of us 20 years ago – I was EMS director in Hanover then – and saying to her ‘Maybe one day I’ll retire and be EMS director down here,’” he said.
When the job opened up, he said his wife told him it was meant to be.