The morning after the Clinton City Council voted to radically alter theirjobs, the dedicated employees of the Clinton Department of Public Safety leapt into their vehicles and responded swiftly to a wreck on I-26. The highway was blocked for a short time, work was done and traffic flowed again. This is the nature of their jobs – they go where we would rather not go, do things we would rather not do, regardless of their support at the municipal center.
Now, they are under investigation.
We welcome an objective pair of eyes to evaluate the Clinton Fire Service. Trouble is, that’s not going to happen. The Interim Fire Chief, Phillip Russell, has all the credentials needed to perform this task, but he has already been told what his findings will be – firefighters need more training, so they need a separate department in which to receive that specialized training. In a city that already has the highest electrical rates in South Carolina – in a city that keeps part of its people’s hard-earned money for a recreation complex that has not yet been built, much less maintained, this is now, suddenly the highest of priorities.
Clearly, the Clinton City Council has some other projects higher on its priority list than mandating that public safety officers choose between police work and fire work. If the fire division needs more money, get some of it from the county. Laurens County Council decided not to give the Clinton Public Safety a $6,000 raise this year for one simple reason – no one came and asked.
Public Safety officers already work in a structure that literally is falling apart under their feet and above their heads. They have done things to help, securing a FEMA grant for a new natural-gas-powered generator that will back-up the power for public safety and communications. The Fire Division has set up a class at Clinton High School to train the next generation of firefighters. Goodness knows, this is needed because this “younger generation” is not the volunteering kind. If Clinton needs more training on the fire side – before the city is sued for negligence – then schedule it, pay for it. The entire structure doesn’t need to be changed to accommodate the desire of a few people to work in the department, that’s the tail wagging the dog.
Personally, in a school shooting, we would rather Clinton DPS send in 30 armed, trained officers, than send in 15 with 15 more sitting on fire trucks in the parking lot. When Bailey Manor was burning, all the DPS officers worked the fire scene – no one was directing traffic on the Jacobs Highway, that’s a good thing. Public Safety in Clinton has never been sold to the public as an experiment – 13 years in, we have considerable skin in the game; we now can revert to police and fire but to what end. Merely, to look like we are doing something, to forestall the lawyers who want to know why this house burned down. No, not good enough. The WHY matters – the why has not been debated.
Appearances do matter, but so does efficiency. In the perfect world, the State of South Carolina would build a law enforcement – fire – public transportation – air evacuation hub at the I-26 rest area and would police the interstates as it should. That multi-million project is not going to happen – so the “next best thing” should happen. Cities along the routes of the interstates should have the adequate resources to fund this state function; perhaps, it’s even a federal function – interstates are federal highways, after all. While we are lobbying for federal and state public safety grants, we must be vigilant on the local end to be sure training is top-notch for our local public safety officers. We feel certain that Public Safety Director Robin Morse and the men and women in his charge want nothing less. We appreciate their service, we admire their courage.
Vic MacDonald is Editor of The Clinton Chronicle. His columns appear monthly in the newspaper and in this space. Reach him at 833-1900 or firstname.lastname@example.org