Port Royal nonplused by retirements among Beaufort Fire Department brass

Town of Port Royal officials say they're confident that a wave of retirements in the Beaufort Fire Department won't affect the town's fire service.

Amid concerns from residents that the retirement next week of Beaufort Fire Chief Wendell Wilburn and the January retirement of assistant fire chief James Colwell would negatively affect the town's fire service, town manager Van Willis sought reassurance from Wilburn and city manager Scott Dadson.

"Both Chief Wilburn and the city manager reassured us this transition in leadership would not affect the number of firefighters necessary to fulfill our contract with the city," Willis said. "We've been told that the shifts will be fully staffed."

The town's contract stipulates that the Beaufort have nine or 10 firefighters on shift at all times to respond to fires and emergencies in Port Royal. If Port Royal wanted to terminate the contract, it must give Beaufort six months notice.

Since 1991, Port Royal has paid the city to manage the town's fire service, and will pay more than $600,000 in personnel costs alone in the upcoming fiscal year. The town also pays a portion of the salaries of the department's administrators, including the fire chief, fire marshal and training officer.

Town Councilman Joe Lee said there is nothing to indicate that the retirements of Wilburn and Colwell will adversely affect the agreement the two municipalities have had for close to two decades.

"We've certainly have a good relationship with the city up until now and I don't think we've seen any evidence to suggest that these changes will affect our fire protection," he said.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said that despite changes in the department's leadership, the town will continue to receive the service it has paid for.

Willis said the town will be watching closely as Dadson looks to name a replacement for Wilburn, who served as the city's fire chief for 28 years.

"The real question will be when they hire a replacement chief and how effective that person will be at training the firefighters," he said.

Dadson will name an interim chief next week.