County Shuts Down Levy Volunteer Fire Department - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/22/07

County Shuts Down Levy Volunteer Fire Department

It was a sad day at the Levy Volunteer Fire Department Tuesday afternoon. After 20 years of building a fire station, Jasper County shut it down.

"Why would you come and fix something that's not broken?" asked one county resident.

People in the community were shocked at the news and gathered outside the fire station to see what was going on. Levy Fire Chief Doug Graham said Monday night at a city council meeting, there was a discussion about an ordinance to create a countywide fire department.

After the meeting, Graham said he followed the county attorney into the hall and asked, "What does this mean for the fire department, are we out?" Graham said the county attorney's response was, "That's exactly right."

Graham then decided to go back into the meeting and speak with council member Fred Tuten. "I asked, 'Does this mean the Levy Fire Department is no more?' He said, 'That's correct.' I asked, 'Where are you going to bring the trucks in from?' He said, 'We will cross that bridge when we get to it.' That's when I turned around and walked away."

The county said Chief Graham threatened to put the Levy trucks in the middle of the road today and that's why at 2pm they came and removed three fire trucks and left an empty fire station.

They handed Chief Graham a letter written by deputy administrator for emergency services Thomas Watson. It said: "Following up on your conversation with Councilman Tuten and the county attorney last night following the first reading of the ordinance to create a countywide fire district, it is my understanding that it is your intention to evict Jasper County firefighters and equipment supplied by the county for the building apparently owned by your organization."

The letter went on to state, "The possibility of being ejected from the Levy facility and/or abandoned by your organization is simply unacceptable to Jasper County. Thus, in consultation with the appropriate members of the staff and after the county's governing structure being informed, I have determined that effective at 2pm today, 911 calls received for emergency services in the Levy area will be diverted to other resources available to the county under a plan which we have devised, and all staff and equipment will be withdrawn from your facility."

Which they did, but community members were not happy. "We are leaving the people in Levy without proper fire coverage," one resident said. "I don't care if they say Hardeeville is going to come."

Another issue concerning people is Route 170. This road is known to have accidents in the past, and with Memorial Day weekend approaching, people are concerned there will be an accident and no one to respond. Even if the Levy volunteers wanted to, they don't even have the equipment to help.

"There is nothing we can do. They've taken our gloves, taken everything," said volunteer Jason Graham.

In the meantime, the community is pulling together, backing their fire chief. Graham insists he never threatened anyone and that the county is overstepping its bounds.

There is going to be a community meeting Thursday night at 7pm at the fire house to discuss what's going on.

Reported by: Christy Hutchings, chutchings@wtoc.com

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