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      Frustrated firefighters speak out about department losses

      COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) -- The Columbia Firefighters Association is concerned about the number of employees that have left Columbia Richland Fire Department in the last five years.

      Since 2007 more than 200 employees have left the department, which includes the more than 55 that left last year.

      Don Townley left Columbia Richland Fire Department and now commutes from his Lexington home to another department in Georgia.

      "I myself had to make a decision for what was best financially for my family. My current position in the fire department I'm currently employed with I'm making 94 percent more," said Townley.

      Townley's friend and former co-worker Captain Brantley Hanna still works for Columbia and is also a spokesperson the City's Firefighter Association.

      The group is concerned with past benefit reductions, the lack of raises and unpaid overtime,which is playing a part in the attrition.

      "As far as how it effects peoples safety, if we constantly have to train a small group of rookies and a small group of people, we have a lower level of experience," said Brantley.

      Columbia councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman said he has had many conversations with Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins, and they will continue to discuss the issue.

      "We've heard all the concerns from our firefighters and I want to ensure everyone in the community that we are committed to ensure that we have a stable department," said Newman.

      Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin released a statement that saying, "Firefighter attrition is a serious concern, thatâ??s why I made the first city employee cost of living increase in four years a budget priority and itâ??s why I'll keep pushing to raise firefighter salaries. These men and women risk their lives to protect our families and they deserve our full support."