Community members and local firefighters met with officials from Fire Safe South Carolina on July 10 at the Howard Center to discuss issues on current fire safety planning in Georgetown.

Section Chief Josh Fulbright with the South Carolina State Fire Marshal's office facilitated the meeting and he said the state averages 75 fire fatalities a year. As of July 10, there have already been 50 fatalities according to Fulbright.

“Some of the things we’re saying and not saying in our state are getting people killed,” Fulbright said. “Kids aren’t dying because they’re not stop, dropping and rolling. They are dying because they are hiding in their closet. They are hiding under the bed. They don’t know where to go. People are dying in our state because they are doing things that aren’t smart.”

Fulbright and the Fire Safe South Carolina team have been travelling across the state since August of 2017 teaching different communities about fire safety. Fulbright served in law enforcement before joining the Fire Safe team in 2016.  

“The fight we are up against is getting worse," he said. "We do have a fire problem here in South Carolina. But we are working together to combat that.”

While there hasn’t been a fire fatality since 2016 in Georgetown County, Georgetown Fire Chief Mack Reed says there are between two and three structure fires a month in the county.

“One may be major and the rest of them are a pot on the stove or something else,” Reed said.

FSSC produces a fire risk assessment of each county in South Carolina through the use of U.S. Census data, public health surveys and the 2016 American Community Survey.

In an environmental scan done by FSSC, Georgetown County along with several other counties, has the second highest risk statewide in the socioeconomic health category.  The county also has the sixth highest risk in the human factors and 29th in housing risk.

According to Fulbright, 85 percent of fires that occur are residential fires and 88 percent of fires occur because of human factors. Two-thirds of fire victims are over the age of 50. He said he believes the right education could help save lives in the future.

“Are we educating seniors equally as we are educating kids? The answer is no,” Fulbright said. “What we tend to see is our education numbers seem to spike in October because of fire prevention month and those numbers are predominantly kids.”

Fulbright said children are not the only demographic that needs to be educated about fire safety, but also senior citizens because of the number of fire victims that are over the age of 50.

“We are focused on getting that kid in a room, teaching them a skill whether it be ‘stop, drop and roll,’ not being afraid of a firefighter or ‘get out, stay out,’” Fulbright said. “We tend to not do that with senior citizens.”

Reed said most of the issues his department sees are in the rural areas where many elderly people live.

“They may be home by themselves,” Reed said. “One of the hardest things is, if they are there by themselves and you transport them to the hospital, then you really ain’t got nobody to talk to. You don’t know when they get out of the hospital, so you have to go back later on and check on how they are doing.”

According to Fulbright, only students in the first and third grades are currently taught fire safety as part of class curriculum statewide, with the primary message being “stop, drop and roll.” He said his team has worked to change the curriculum to teach children about what to do when they see a fireman, “get out, stay out” and where to go when they get outside.

Community outreach is also something Fulbright said could help prevent fires in Georgetown County. Fulbright encouraged people to go to a church and spread the word about fire safety.

“Think about the demographics of the churches,” Fulbright said. “In a lot of our churches the population tends to be older. That’s who we are losing.”

The City of Georgetown Fire Department and FSSC held a community outreach event after the meeting July 10. The event was open to all ages and featured face painting, cold slushies and the opportunity to ride in an old-fashioned fire truck.

Children were also able to explore the inside of a modern fire truck and board a U.S. Coast Guard response boat.

Many area firefighters were on hand for the event including Billy Howard. He said events like the one July 10 are important because it allows the public to get to know the people that arrive first during an emergency.

“You get out and get to see faces,” Howard said. “If we have to come out at 3 o'clock in the morning they aren’t scared — it’s real good to get out and let your face be seen.”  

Visit www.southstrandnews.com to view additional photos from this event.