Bruce Tanner has seen many changes take place with McDuffie County Fire Services since he took over as chief in 1994. If things go the way he hopes, there could be more changes on the way.
During a meeting with the McDuffie County Commission's Public Safety Committee, Chief Tanner said the current organizational structure has presented problems in the past and has the potential to prevent the department from complying with federal and state mandates.
His plan is to sit down with the individual station chiefs and other volunteer firefighters to discuss reworking the bylaws to alleviate these concerns. He would then take a comprehensive plan to the full commission for approval.
"I've just got to talk to (the volunteers) first and get their feelings and try to come up with a suitable replacement system," Chief Tanner said. "The current system just creates too many problems."
One of those problems is the voting structure, he said. If changes are mandated from state or federal authorities, the chief doesn't have the ability to implement those changes on his own.
Under the current system - which has been in place since 2000 - a committee of station chiefs would vote on whether or not to implement the changes. Theoretically, Chief Tanner said, they could vote against those mandates and be out of compliance. Doing so would prevent the department from receiving grant money or federal funding.
"As far as our policies and procedures go now, there's a possibility that (changes) could be outvoted, and my vote doesn't count any more than any of the other station chiefs," Chief Tanner said. "And I see that as a problem."
McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton doesn't think that theoretical showdown is as viable a possibility.
"If it's a mandate, stuff that we are forced to do, there won't be a vote. There will be a commissioners' vote," Chairman Newton said. "If we have to, we have to."
What is tricky about the situation is the department's dependence on volunteers. Officials, including Chief Tanner, realize the important role they play in a department that has increasingly become a hybrid of paid and volunteer firefighters in recent years.
"We're going to have to talk about that and go into that very carefully because volunteers are still the backbone of our organization, and we don't want to unnecessarily run off volunteers," Chairman Newton said.
Chief Tanner agrees with the importance of volunteer firefighters, but views the system from a perspective of adjusting to a new reality.
"McDuffie County is going to be dependent upon volunteers for probably long after I'm gone from here," Chief Tanner said. "But the volunteers just need to understand that times change, and we've got to change with it. This isn't about me, and it's not about them. It's about adjusting to our world since 9/11 and trying to move our fire department forward so we can serve the community better."