AUTRYVILLE — The local fire department is working to provide the most efficient and timely services to the residents in and around Autryville. As part of those efforts, the department will begin transitioning to a paid staff at night, while looking for more volunteers and funding in the process.
Andrew Hawkins, fire chief of the Autryville Fire Department, said he and other paid personnel are in need of additional staffing, something departments in other areas of the county are beginning to look into, as are department in surrounding counties.
“We just want the county to open their eyes and ears and see that we need additional funding to hire more staff members so that we can have additional staff on hand during the day and at night,” Hawkins said.
Effective March 1, the Autryville Fire Department will transition from strictly volunteers at night, to a paid staff working the late hours.
Two firemen currently cover the department from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and from 10 p.m.-6 a.m.
As it currently stands, the Autryville Fire Department is working with about a $130,000 budget, of which $40,000 goes towards staff expenses and salaries. The department operates with nine part-time paid employees and 35 volunteers.
“We just can’t afford to pay anyone else out of our own budget,” Hawkins explained.
Hawkins said getting volunteers to come out to calls during the early morning hours is a task that is hard to fill, especially when they have a job to report to at 8 a.m.
“That 4-6 a.m. range is really tough,” Hawkins attested. “It’s hard to get someone to come in and cover those hours when they then have to turn around and be at their full-time job in just a couple of hours.”
The fire chief said he wants to be clear on one point — volunteers are still needed.
“I am not trying to push volunteers away,” Hawkins said. “We still need as many as we can get. We just need to make sure we have someone on staff at all times so that we can assist the citizens of Sampson County when we are needed.”
According to Hawkins, there are grants the department could apply for, but many of those grants require a long-term obligation. And, Hawkins said, the simple fact is the department can’t commit to long-term financial promises.
“We would be under obligation to maintain many of those grants beyond the five years,” Hawkins said. “If the money isn’t here now, will it be here then?”
While Autryville Fire Department may be the perfect candidate for such grants, Hawkins said his desire would be for the county to enter into the financial obligations and be responsible for maintaining the funds.
“Not only would this help us, but the entire county,” Hawkins said.
According to the chief, the department is efficiently covered during the day hours, but it’s the night hours where he needs the additional staff. When a truck goes out on a call, the ideal scenario is to have four men on the truck at the time of a call.
“Nights and weekends have the potential to cause problems,” Hawkins said.
In November 2015, a house fire on Leroy Autry Road occurred in that window of time that Hawkins says he needs additional staff. Luckily, Hawkins said, Salemburg was able to assist Autryville on the call.
“That’s exactly why we need more staff,” Hawkins said. “There is no magic answer. I have expressed my need for another part-time position and I need people to keep volunteering.”
For anyone interested in volunteering at the department, contact Hawkins at 910-525-5863.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.