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BY LAURA LEWIS
CAROLINA SHORES—The future of the Calabash Fire Department was a hot topic at a commissioners’ workshop Monday.
Town commissioner Gere Dale, who represents the town on the fire department board, outlined a feasibility study he had compiled that he says offers no recommendations but cites alternatives for the department’s approximate 28-square-mile fire district that serves Calabash, Carolina Shores and county residents.
That includes the possibility of locating a third fire station on a plot of land on Hickman Road east of Hickmans Crossroads that could provide “statutory response to all the county areas in the fire district,” Dale said.
“The status quo probably is not an alternative,” Dale said. “Because of expansion and trying to serve three masters, something is going to have to be done.”
Dale’s figures based on 2006 population comparisons show 1,334 residents or 12 percent of the district population is in Calabash, 2,439 residents or 22 percent in Carolina Shores and 7,175 residents or 65 percent lives in the county portion of the district.
Among issues at stake is the 34-year-old main fire station building on Persimmon Road that will need repairs if not replacement and aging equipment, he said.
Dale also believes Calabash isn’t interested in taking over the department, leaving Carolina Shores and the county as “potentially viable options” to be pondered by the board.
“They do not think it’s in the best interest of residents in this area to come under the entire auspices of the county, which does not want to take over any fire departments,” Dale said. “That has been indicated in clear and articulate language.”
Carolina Shores commissioner Joseph Przywara said his research shows over the past seven months, “the county by far had more responses. We have the least use, and we’re going to become the proprietor. I have a problem with that. If we could be sure we get enough financial responsibility from other players, I don’t have a problem.”
Commissioner John Russo said the feasibility study should have drawn from more people and answered residents’ questions. He also said the towns need to be meeting with developers to “explain problems that exist.”
“Where are we going to get trained personnel?” he asked. “We can’t get volunteers now, I understand. I think the people needed a little bit more information.”
Russo added “the first thing residents see is we’re going to build our own fire department.”
Commissioner Jack Csernecky, who volunteers with the fire department, said, “We’re really just talking about it, looking at options.”
Commissioner Tom Puls said his concern is the population is getting older.
“The fire department right now has great response to first-responder calls,” he said. “I would be very concerned if the county were to take over the fire department. They would be the ones to tell exactly what calls, and they may not be that interested in answering first-responder calls.”
Csernecky said once control of the department is relinquished, “it’s gone.”
Mayor Stephen Selby said, “We’ve allowed the sheriff’s department to respond to our issues and there have been no complaints about it overall. I think everyone is satisfied with the way the county operates law enforcement. I wouldn’t expect them to give us any less service if they were the hierarchy for the fire department.”
Selby said if they’re to go to the next level in addressing the issue, a mayor-appointed task force of citizens should be formed.
Because of the present economic situation, he said now is not a good time for Carolina Shores to be moving ahead with building a new fire department.
Dale said nobody is suggesting that.
“This board should be acting responsibly in planning ahead,” he said. “It’s called proactive management, not reactive management, in considering a problem that does confront this town. Nobody is talking about increasing taxes next fiscal year.”