New fire chief wants the department to be more visible in community
Bennettsville Fire Chief James Jackson III wants the department to be known for more than just racing to fire calls.
"We don't want to be known as a fire department that you see when we run down the road with lights and sirens on," he said. "We are going to be a fire department that is out in the community."
Jackson, formerly of Pickens County, started as chief on April 2.
Being involved with the community and leading the department into the future are some of his goals.
"My commitment to the city of Bennettsville and the members of this department is to offer my complete focus and energy to leading the Bennettsville Fire Department into the future through teamwork," he said. "There isn't an "I" in a team. We are going to do it as a team."
Jackson has devoted his life to public service.
It started in 1998 when he was 15 and an Explorer in law enforcement.
After his mother died in December of 1998, he got more involved in public safety.
"I decided I wanted to help people," he said.
By the end of 1999, he had started to get more involved with the fire side of public safety. He had worked his way up to being a certified fireman by 2003. Later he started working full-time at the Liberty Fire Department.
In 2004, he became fire chief of Norris Volunteer Fire Department and was there until 2011. He left Liberty in 2011 because he wanted to get more into the administrative side of firefighting.
He went to the Seneca Fire Department where he was the training officer and deputy fire marshal.
"My ultimate goal in the fire service when I went into administration was to always be a full-time fire chief," Jackson said.
In 2012, he went to the Lake City Fire Department. Then in December of 2013, he went to the state fire marshal's office where he was a deputy state fire marshal doing building inspections.
And while there, even though he wanted to be a full-time fire chief, he stopped applying for the positions.
A few years ago, his 93-year-old grandfather died. He had always encouraged his grandson to go for his goal and to never give up. Jackson realized he needed to start looking for chief jobs again. Then the Bennettsville fire chief position became available.
"I applied for it, prayed about it and I'm here," he said. "I'm excited to be here. I'm ready to move the department forward."
He moved here from Pickens County with his wife Sharetta and their five children.
His first week was busy with calls. His plan has been to spend his first month evaluating the department and meeting one-on-one with everyone.
"I can't do it by myself," he said."I have to let everyone have a part in moving this department forward."
BFD has 12 full-time firefighters with three on each shift. A lieutenant, engineer, and firefighter is always on a 24-hour shift.
On the administrative side with Jackson is an assistant chief fire marshal. The department has 15 volunteers.
BFD has two stations — Northside and downtown station.
Right now, there is a full roster. Last year, the department ran 430 calls.
Jackson said he is a hands-on chief, who runs calls.
"If the tones go off, I'm out," he said.
He felt a department this size must have a chief, assistant chief and fire marshal who are hands-on.
Volunteers are always needed, he said, with applications being taken all the time so they can have a pool to pull volunteers from. To be a volunteer firefighter, you must be 18 years old.
The BFD has an Explorer's program, run by Lt. Chris Burke, for ages 16-18.
Chuck Black teaches a program at Marlboro County High School, where students can be certified firemen before they graduate from high school.
The department will start hydrant testing in District 5 on May 7.
Jackson said they are acquiring some smoke alarms.
If anyone needs one, they are asked to call the department at 843-479-9901, ext. 321.
Jackson encouraged the community to call or stop by the station.
"Our doors are always open," he said.
The department is available to do public safety programs, fire extinguisher demonstrations or a tour of the station.
"If they are having an event and want to have a fire truck there, they can always call us to come. We are here for the community. We are not a department that is going to be just sitting here," Jackson said.