Deadly fire highlights need for more firefighters

The station less than a mile away from the fire that claimed the life of Angela Cannon, 51, is Station 16.

There's a fire station just a short distance away from the site of a deadly Tuesday night fire in Horry County.

It's a station staffed only by volunteer firefighters, as are many others in the county.

The station less than a mile away from the fire that claimed the life of Angela Cannon, 51, is Station 16. Neighbors believe if the station had personnel on duty when the call came in, Cannon might still be alive. And now Robert Rogers is wondering if the fire response from the station is good enough to protect the homes in his neighborhood. "I stay right down the road, too, and if something would happen to my house, I wish, hope they would be there faster than what they were."

Conway Fire Department was the first at the scene Tuesday night. Horry County's fire chief says it's impossible to know if Cannon would be alive if Station 16 had been manned. But he says it's not unusual for those volunteer-only stations to be empty at 10:30 at night. Chief Garry Alderman said, "A lot of the volunteers have day time jobs, so they're home or they might have family issues they're handling. They just don't hang around fire stations."

Along with career firefighters, Horry County has 225 volunteer firefighters, who all have lives and careers separate from their firefighting duties. Alderman said it's hard to find people these days willing to give up so much of their time and energy to be volunteers. In the old days, Alderman said new volunteers were handed a hat and a helmet and then went off to fight fires. Today, the state requires volunteers to get basic firefighter training, plus hazardous materials, CPR and more. "Totally it's almost 200 hours of training before they can go enter a building," he said.

Volunteers get paid $10 per fire call. Horry County has more than 300 career firefighters, but that's not enough for all stations. "Would it be nice to have some career in every station? Absolutely," said Alderman, "but you still have to have the volunteers to supplement the career."

According to Alderman, it's especially tough to find volunteers for rural areas, but they're always recruiting.

Of Horry County's 32 fire stations, only 18 are staffed by career firefighters.