By Stan Welch
The Anderson County Fire Department held their annual awards banquet last week, and Chief Tommy Keaton, of the Three and Twenty Fire Department was presented with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.
Keaton began his service as a firefighter when he was eighteen years old and lived in Pickens County. After marrying and moving across the county line, he became a member of the Three and Twenty Department. He held several ranks before becoming chief, a position he has held for twenty four years. He has been a firefighter for a total of twenty eight years.
The letter nominating him for the award lists a number of his contributions, such as being on the very chiefs’ advisory board that honored him last week. “I was on the board for fifteen years, and we always did a good job of keeping the awards secret. They did a good job this time, too” said Keaton. “They definitely surprised me.”
Keaton also helped create the V Safe program, which implements peer review by other firefighters in order to improve safety and performance. He was originally appointed to that committee by former Rep. Dan Cooper and was recently reappointed by current Rep. Brian White. Keaton also served on the first ISO committee which strives to meet ISO requirements for better ratings for the departments. ISO ratings can affect the homeowner’s insurance costs.
He also worked to update the bylaws and regulations for the county fire department and helped secure numerous grants for departments across the state.
He was clearly proud that the Three and Twenty department also had two charter members, Fred Henderson and James Martin, honored for completing fifty years of service each.
Despite his obvious affection for and commitment to the volunteer fire system, he also sees the establishment of a paid department as inevitable. “We’ve grown up, and the changes that come with that will make paid firefighters necessary. It may not be in the next few years, but it will have to come. We have so many volunteers that now work maybe fifteen or twenty miles from their firehouse. They used to work around the corner, or on the farm across the road. Now? They can’t respond from where they are. So compensated firefighters will be needed, at least during daylight work hours.”
“We’re also much busier than we were a few years ago. Back then, a hundred calls a year was a huge year. Last year, we responded to 207 calls, and we don’t do just medical calls. We roll to fires. Imagine how many calls some departments are answering.”
By Stan Welch