Blythewood Fire Station Rebuilding Storied Program

Blythewood volunteer firefighter Evan Peterson, second from left, displays the Pride of the Battalion Award he received upon completion of an eight-week Firefighter Candidate School course last month. The award, which was his battalion’s flag, is the school’s highest award. Shown in the row behind Peterson are paid employee representatives of each shift at the Fire Station: Curtis Hill, first shift; Scott Byrd, third shift and Rian O’Donnell, second shift. Standing to Peterson’s left is Jay Strohecker, who is recruiting volunteer firefighters to the Blythewood Fire Station and other fire stations in the Blythewood area.

The Blythewood Fire Station was established in 1971 by the citizens of Blythewood. The all-volunteer fire service has long been a source of safety and pride for the Blythewood community. It seemed everybody who was anybody served a stint volunteering at the town’s fire station.

Over the years, a strong volunteer staff of about 20 or so local men and women, including a locally legendary string of volunteer fire chiefs, was usually on call at the Blythewood station.

Since 1992, however, the Blythewood Fire Station (now officially known as Columbia Fire Station No. 26) has been owned and equipped by Richland County through an arrangement with the City of Columbia, which provides two paid, well-trained firefighters for each of three shifts to give 24/7 protection for the community.

In recent years, the number of volunteers has dwindled dramatically, fluctuating between few and none.

To help rebuild the volunteer program in Blythewood and in other nearby rural fire stations (Bear Creek on Heinz Road, Upper Richland Station on Campground Road in Cedar Creek and Crane Creek Station on Fairfield Road), the Columbia Fire Department has initiated a recruiting effort to attract volunteers from within the community that each station serves.

Since January, six volunteers have become certified firefighters for the Blythewood station and six or seven more are in the pipeline according to Volunteer Coordinator Jay Strohecker of the Columbia Fire Department.

“We need about 20 volunteers out here at the Blythewood station,” Strohecker said. “And there’s never been a better time to volunteer than now. While there are specific requirements, including training and residency that must be met, there are also great personal rewards, and we are currently offering a number of incentives.”

Strohecker said the volunteers’ extensive training is nationally recognized and continually reviewed to ensure that they have the most up-to-date skills and life-saving techniques. And, Strohecker added, “the knowledge and experience they gain through this training lasts a lifetime.”

“For optimum service, we need well-trained volunteers on call at home, at work and at the station. We’re looking for volunteers with the desire to give back – dedicated community servants.”

Strohecker said all of Blythewood’s new recruits fit that description.

Evan Peterson, 21, is a good example, he said. Peterson, who recently completed the required eight-week firefighter course for volunteer candidates at the S.C. Fire Academy on Monticello Road, has apparently been planning to be a firefighter since he was four years old. That’s when he began to ask his mom to take him to the Blythewood Fire Station where paid firefighter Keith Barton remembers showing him around or just letting him hang out and climb on the ladder truck.

But Peterson’s desire to serve his community as a firefighter is more than a ‘big red truck’ thing. It’s a family thing. His mom, Katie Peterson, served on the Blythewood Planning Commission several years ago, and his grandmother, Cindy Nord, currently serves on the town’s Architectural Review Board.

“I’ve always had an overwhelming desire to help out,” Peterson said. “This is definitely something I want to do.”

Peterson said he spends at least one afternoon and most weekends at the station waiting for a call to come in. Barton said there are usually two or three calls per shift.

“If a call comes in and I’m at the station,” Peterson said, “I get on the truck just like the paid guys.”

While Peterson said he’s eyeing a paid firefighting career, Strohecker said that’s not a required or expected next step for volunteers.

“We need many kinds of volunteers to help with more than just firefighting and for whatever length of time they can donate,” said Strohecker. “We need accountants, web masters, computer technicians and even those who can cook and bring food and snacks to the firefighters when they’re on a several-hours-long call.”

Robert Rabon, a Blythewood resident who was the Blythewood Fire Station’s first paid engineer and who recently retired from the Columbia Fire Department, said there are some volunteer jobs at a fire station that take less training than a firefighter but are still very necessary.

“Someone in the community with a Class B driver’s license could qualify to drive the tanker,” Rabon said. “Volunteering at the fire department is a great way to serve the community and it’s a job that is very much appreciated by the folks in Blythewood,” Rabon said. “It’s a proud tradition in Blythewood that I hope will continue.”

For more information about how to become a volunteer, call 803-545-3700 or go to columbiasc.net/fire/195.

Requirements:

–Must undergo various levels of training for firefighting, medical emergency and physical fitness at the SC Fire Academy on Monticello Rd., and ongoing training as required

–Must live in the community

–Must have a strong desire to serve the community

Benefits:

–Tuition refunds

–Up to $3,000 in income tax incentives

–Potential college credit for certain training courses

–Fuel reimbursement

–Paid accidental death insurance

–Opportunity to provide a valuable resource to community