By Beth Lawrence
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has set aside a week to honor the county’s heroes.
The board signed a proclamation at its regular meeting on Sept. 3 setting aside Sept. 8-14 as Fire Fighter, Rescue Squad and First Responder Week.
The proclamation asks residents take time to show appreciation to first responders for their dedication to the county.
“The value of what they provide, the service, we (the county) could not provide that service without the volunteers,” said Commission Chairman Brian McMahan ,who is also assistant fire chief at Balsam/Willets/Ochre Hill Volunteer Fire Department.
First responders, both paid and volunteer, are trained to respond to emergency situations from medical issues to fires and swift water rescues covering the needs of residents and visitors within Jackson County’s 494-square-mile area. Many departments also have mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties to lend assistance outside the county when needed.
With the exception of Harris EMS, law enforcement and a few members of fire departments, all of the county’s first responders are volunteers, Jackson County Fire Marshall Michael Forbis said.
Those volunteers give back to the county in more ways than showing up, putting out fires and transporting sick people, according to Randall Moss, chairman of the board of directors for Balsam/Willets/Ochre Hill Volunteer Fire Department.
“You’ve got to remember when you’re volunteering, everything that you do, there’s no money that’s paid out,” said Moss. “For the number of hours and those kind of things that these men donate, it’s amazing what you will spend over time. It’s untold number of hours.”
Moss has volunteered for 40 years starting his service in Cashiers.
Volunteers not only spend their time answering calls but training as well.
Even those who do not directly volunteer give back to the community in their efforts to support volunteer first responders.
“When you’re thinking about what’s being donated, the individual not only donates their time, money, energy and time away from their families, but there’s a lot of employers that allow them to make the calls, so they’re (employers) also donating time, energy, money to allow services to go on,” Moss said. “Then you think about the scope of Jackson County, of how many firefighters and rescue people that donate that time, you just couldn’t put an amount on that that’s donated every year.”
Some local organizations held events to honor local first responders.
Old Savannah Baptist Church held a dinner for emergency services personnel on Sept 4.
American Legion Post and American Legion Riders have planned a hot dog lunch for firefighters, rescue, EMS, dispatch, and local law enforcement. The lunch is at 11 a.m. Saturday at the American Legion Building near Mark Watson Park.
The county boasts a nonprofit emergency medical services unit, the Glenville/Cashiers EMS which works with Glenville/Cashiers volunteer rescue squad. Those two units cover the south end of Jackson County. Harris EMS covers the rest of the county.
Each volunteer fire department has one county paid district coordinator to handle calls and day to day duty at the fire station such as paperwork required to maintain the county’s insurance rating, track training hours, grants applications, and maintenance logs to keep trucks in service.
Moss called the county’s willingness to pay for those positions “gracious,” and said having someone on site aids each department’s response time.
Jackson County has 247 volunteer firefighters serving at six volunteer fire departments along with six district coordinators, 22 full and part time paid firefighters at Cashiers/Glenville Fire Department, 65 volunteer rescue squad members in the Jackson County and Glenville/Cashiers units, 47 full time and 27 part time EMS workers between Harris EMS and Glenville/Cashiers EMS units, 20 employees at the 911 center and four members of the emergency management department, according to Forbis. That is a total of 438 souls beyond law enforcement standing ready to help those in need.