Since 1948, the Sullivan’s Island Fire Department has worked hard to respond quickly to its residents and visitors in need. Their duties haven’t changed, but the station’s look has.
After Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the station moved to the center of Sullivan’s Island on Middle Street to allow the team to respond to emergencies in a matter of minutes. The station has remained in this location for over 30 years, but this does not mean the town stopped improving the department.
After noticing some issues with the exterior of the building, mainly due to water intrusion in the walls, SIFD Fire Chief Anthony Stith and the town decided to fully renovate the fire station. The $8 million project began in the summer of 2020 and finished by late 2022.
“We really took it down to the skeleton, but luckily the steel work was able to be retained to save money,” Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neil said.
The goal of the renovation was to bring the fire station up to current codes and make improvements that would ensure the safety of the people experiencing an emergency, as well as the firefighters themselves.
Stith, who has overseen the department since 1982, noted that over the course of his tenure the department has grown extensively. To accommodate this growth, the facilities needed to expand.
“When the station was built, there was only one fireman on shift,” Stith said. “Currently, there are always three firefighters on shift and soon we will need four. We needed more and differently arranged spaces.”
The new fire station improved living areas for firefighters including individual bunker rooms, refrigerators for each shift and more bathrooms and shower stalls. One important factor that the renovation needed to accommodate was the addition of female firefighters. The old station was only designed to house male staff members, but that is no longer sufficient.
In fact, Amanda Hawver now serves as the assistant fire chief, paving the way for many more female firefighters to come. Another way the revamped fire station works to accommodate everyone is through the addition of an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In addition to keeping firefighters comfortable during their shifts, the renovation aimed to ensure firefighters’ safety. Stith explained that in the past few years, more research has been released on the severity of short and long-term impacts of chemicals and fumes to first-responding firefighters. To alleviate this concern, Stith said the new fire station has “an exhaust system that hooks to the trucks and takes the cancer-causing fumes out.” The firefighters also now have a commercial washer and dryer specifically for cleaning bunker gear to remove the harmful chemicals.
The fire department also keeps firefighters safe through constant training, which has become easier due to the new training facility’s additional space. The department is made up of both career firefighters and a large group of available volunteer firefighters, all requiring intensive training.
At the root of all the training and preparedness is the desire to help the community, and the main purpose of the renovation was to better safeguard the residents and visitors of Sullivan’s Island.
The new bi-fold garage doors open much quicker, allowing firefighters to reach their destination significantly faster. Additionally, new equipment in each truck allows the crew to respond to emergencies more effectively. Considering it is located just steps from the beach, the fire staff wanted to ensure that their ability to help the community would not be impaired by the inevitable hurricanes and coastal storms. The building is now outfitted with hurricane-strength windows and siding resistant to a Category 4 or 5 hurricane and new freezer and supply lockers in the event of a storm.
With the extra space, the fire department can ensure they are equipped for all situations. The new facility allocated space behind it to house town materials and maintenance equipment. The garage houses all the fire trucks, jet skis and other materials needed for water rescue. There was also room to add office space for the town hall employees.
“The new design is much more functional, but it is also attractive to anyone who passes by,” O’Neil added.
The fire department aims to continue a close relationship with the community, whether you call the island home or are just visiting for a beach day. You can rest assured and breathe a little easier knowing these firefighters are ready to respond at a moment’s notice, even during happy hour. So kick back, relax and leave it to the professionals.
By Madison Broach