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City to split police, fire departments

 

By Heather Walters

 

Walterboro City Council took its first step last week toward disbanding its joint police-fire department, and will return to operating two separate departments.

While rumors of the separation have been rampid amid the community for several months, the council issued its first action on the ordinance at Tuesday’s city council meeting. The unanimous first-reading of the ordinance was given with no discussion from council: however, council discussed the issue at length last month behind closed doors in an executive session in May.

If approved, the ordinance will disband the existing Walterboro Public Safety Department and return it to two separate functioning departments – one for the police department and one for the fire department. As it exists now, the mutually-exclusive joint department employs personnel who are mostly certified in both fire and police needs. Those officers respond to the fire and police needs of the community and operate under the leadership of Interim Public Safety Chief Ken Dasen.

The joint department has been in effect for about seven years.

Under the proposed new ordinance, the city will again operate two separate departments with two separate budgets under the leadership of two chiefs – one for fire and one for police. According to city Manager Jeff Molinari, the department heads will hopefully be hired and in place by the end of August. “I will begin advertising for both of those chief positions soon,” he added.

Molinari says the council has decided to separate the departments to broaden the applicant pool for the city’s police and fire departments. Those personnel who are already jointly-certified can choose to continue to work for whichever side they choose, he said. Approximately half of the entire personnel pool are jointly-certified. “It takes a special individual to want to do both fire and police, so it will broaden the applicant pool for the city for the departments,” Molinari said.

The cost of initially combining the departments is unclear, as its the cost of separating them. The departments’ patrol cars, documents and uniforms will have to be rebranded. “You would have to comb through the budgets for the last several years to see what was allotted to combine the departments,” said Molinari, who just became the city’s manager in January.

According to Dasen, the success of the two new departments depends on the leadership of the two new chiefs. “The first obstacle is to get two chiefs who are willing to work together,” he said. Dasen said he has yet to decide if he will throw his hat in the ring for the permanent chief position. He has been with the department for 17 years and has served as an assistant police chief and is now the interim police chief. “The overall feelings of the department is that it’s a positive thing, and will be positive for the community,” said Dasen.

The proposed ordinance requires two more readings before it is final and takes effect.

Heather Walters (1738 Posts)