CHERAW - Some 80 residents, most of which were from the Southside community, turned out at Pee Dee Baptist Church on June 27 for a public hearing on the proposed fire department training center to be located next to Southside Park.
The Southside community is located off the U.S. 52 South Truck Route Southside Park is located adjacent to the Cheraw Waste Management facility. The training center will be located between the waste management facility and a little league baseball field.
"We can't burn leaves in our yards, so how can we allow a burn center," said one concerned resident. "As a resident of the community, I would like to say you should build this thing someplace else - just not in my backyard."
A panel of which included Cheraw Fire Chief John L Melton III, Mayor Andy Ingram, Town Administrator Bill Taylor and members of the Town Council , fielded questions that ranged from who would be using the facility to when and how often it would be used. The majority of the questions however, dealt with safety concerns and why Southside was chosen for its location.
Chief Melton answered most of the questions, assuring those in attendance that the training center would be both beneficial and safe.
"We prefer to call it a training center as opposed to a burn center," said Melton. "Our firefighters, who are mostly volunteers, actually train more than they fight fires. We need a place for them to train under realistic conditions.
Melton pointed out that the training center would have minimal negative impact on the community.
"It will be not much worse than burning leaves in your backyard," Melton said.
During his opening presentation, Melton showed films that depicted similar trainings center in Johnsonville and Windy City. He pointed out that centers were located near residential neighborhoods, a high school, a church and a park. He said neither of the centers has received complaints in regards to health or safety concerns.
He said the training center would be a Class A facility, which means it can only burn, wood, paper or hay. He also said he was uncertain as to how often the facility would be used. Melton said the facility could be used by neighboring fire departments for training purposes.
As to why the Southside Park location was chosen. Melton said that nothing was written in stone, but Southside appeared to be an "ideal" location. He said this was the case because the land belongs to the city and that the land was already leveled. That means it is cost-free and building could begin right away.
Melton said the fire department had looked at several other locations. He cited land by the city water tower on West Greene Street, but the owner of the property wanted too much money. He said areas near the airport had been looked at, but it was discovered that the training center would not comply with FAA regulations.
The possibility of Chesterfield as a site was considered, but that the ISO would not allow the training center to be that far away from Cheraw.
Melton said that using county land would become a "turf" issue.
In the end, Melton said, Southside Park seemed to meet all the necessary requirements.
Still, several residents remained opposed to the idea of having the training center built in their community.
"Why is it always this side," one resident asked the panel. "What's next? Let's not put everything on this side of town. There are other areas where this can be built."
Mayor Ingram said that a panel appointed by the town council would continue to study the training center proposal and would report their findings before a decision is made on the training center.