ANDERSON — “I didn’t become a firefighter to arrest people or get shot at.”
That was one of the strongest arguments made by Pendleton Fire Chief Danny Gardner when he talked about his opposition to the idea of Public Safety Officers. And he thinks a lot of firefighters around the country would agree with him.
The PSO concept, which has been adopted in some capacity by about 130 communities around the country, combines the responsibilities of some firefighters with police officers. The officers would receive cross training in both disciplines, preparing them to assist both departments when necessary.
The idea is being entertained in hundreds of other communities, especially ones facing budget crises because of the economic flux of the past decade. Officials are scrambling to make government more efficient by findings ways to cut back on resources while still providing the same basic services. Anderson Chief of Police Larry Crenshaw said in July that he was researching the effectiveness and long-term viability of a PSO program in Anderson, though he has not yet advocated its implementation.
The idea has been met with general opposition from fire chiefs and unions in Madison County. Almost every official interviewed said they wanted to research the topic. Gardner said he has some concerns.
“And, from the other side, I think police would feel the same. I don’t think they became policemen to go into a burning house and put out a fire,” said the volunteer fire chief. “We have the ultimate respect for police, but they’re different entities and they’re different kinds of people. But both are dangerous jobs.”
Gardner used a shooting in Pendleton last year as an example. On July 27, 2012, Kenneth J. Bailey went on a shooting rampage in the 300 block of Water Street after killing innocent bystander Neal Shull. Gardner said he was just down the road from the mayhem and could hear the gunshots.