Island Vibes May 2024

here would we be without them? Certainly not as safe, that’s for sure. We might not even think about them until we need them but just knowing that they are there gives us peace of mind. It all started with a house fire in 1952. Since no fire department existed on Isle of Palms at the time, volunteers from the Sullivan’s Island Fire Department rushed in to help. But for every call that the Sullivan’s Island unit responded to on Isle of Palms, $100 was given to their department. As our population grew, it became increasingly clear that we needed our own fire department. Every male adult resident on the island would be urged to volunteer and the city council appropriated $200 to purchase six sets of personal firefighting gear. Residents were asked to contribute $10 per household to buy a pre-owned fire engine which would save each homeowner about $14 annually on insurance premiums. A door-to-door donation drive requesting $1 from each household raised an additional $350 to add 10 more sets of gear. In 1975, the city hired three fulltime fire engineers, allowing the department to transition to a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters. Over the next decade, the department added more full-time personnel and the island’s first fulltime fire chief, Larry Britton, was hired in 1987. But as we all know, fire fighters do more than extinguish fires. With the ocean on our doorstep, the island’s fire department saw the need for water rescues and bought a life-saving boat in 1985. In 1991, the island’s EMTs became the first in Charleston County to be certified in the use of defibrillators. No sooner had the 24 HISTORY Emergence and evolution of IOP Fire Department By Mary Coy W Photos Courtesy of Isle of Palms Fire Department Chief Ann Graham (Corbett) Chief Craig Oliverius department achieved certification than it saved the life of a man in full cardiac arrest. Our fire department has also assisted in finding lost children and even in the birth of babies. Although there have been no reports of rescuing cats out of trees, there have been times when residents called them to remove snakes from their garages. Other incidents have involved responding to car wrecks, medical issues on the beach and numerous water rescues each year. In 1994, the city hired its first woman fire chief, Ann Graham (Corbett), who had previously been a member of both Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms departments. With her appointment, she became the first woman fire chief in the state. She retired in 2020 after serving 35 years with Isle of Palms. Today, the department has 33 fulltime employees with an annual budget of $5 million. The current chief, Craig Oliverius, was hired in 2022 and was one of 53 applicants. Oliverius formerly served with the Mount Pleasant Fire Department and began his career more than 20 years ago as a volunteer firefighter on Sullivan’s Island. With the Isle of Palms Fire Department’s impressive evolution over the past seven decades, today’s residents and visitors are in good hands when an emergency arises.