For the first time in 30 years, thousands of firefighters from throughout South Carolina are in Columbia for the annual South Carolina Fire Rescue Conference.
For three decades, the event was held in Myrtle Beach. The South Carolina Firefighters’ Association wanted to make the event more accessible to rural fire departments whose limited budgets prevented them from traveling to the Grand Strand.
“It’s a long trip for some of the Upstate people to make so what we were looking for was a way to draw in those or get those the ability to attend our classes and sessions and see the vendors and do all that without it being a terrible burden on them,” said Chief Tres Atkinson, President of the South Carolina Firefighters’ Association.
He said he expects having the conference in Columbia as a “long-term solution.” This the 113th year of the event.
“We’ve had some tell us ‘Thank you for getting it closer to us. In the past we haven’t been able to afford to send anybody to Myrtle Beach’ because they are on a limited budget,” he said. “And this is an opportunity for them — four or five of them — to get in the car and ride down for the day and take some classes.”
The Firefighters’ Association has about 17,500 members from more than 500 fire departments statewide.
Atkinson said Columbia also has amenities that Myrtle Beach doesn’t.
“We’re going for an education-type conference and this gives us a lot of places to work with. We’re right here with the South Carolina Fire Academy, which we work very closely with, Columbia Fire Department, Lexington Fire Department — they offer good facilities,” he said. “We have places to have water rescue programs.”
But Columbia isn’t the beach.
“The beach certainly was fun for the past 30-something years that we had been there,” he said. “But I think everyone understands that we’re moving to an education conference. I believe this is the right direction for us right now.”
Atkinson, who also is the Dorchester Fire Chief, said offering training to as many firefighters as possible is more important than fun at the beach.
“They get that training. They get that education. They get the opportunities to be part of that learning experience so we find that if we can offer it to them here and it’s free and it’s close then maybe we’ll up our numbers than we have in the past at Myrtle Beach.”
Many of the events are open to the public and they’re free. Click here for a link to the schedule. Events are scheduled through Saturday.