HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - It started out as just another day on the job, but within minutes Beth Petty’s life changed forever.
“I was driving the engine,” Petty recalled. “We were called to a wreck involving a bicycle.”
Petty is a firefighter with the Horry County Fire Rescue. On Jan. 1, 2019, she was with the crew that was responding to a fatal crash.
For two years, Petty has responded to countless emergency calls, but this one was different.
“It’s even scary to think back on,” she said. “It was just out of the blue. You don’t expect it, especially with the road shut down. There are cones, there are police cars, there’s a big red fire truck, we all have lights on.”
The road block, flashing lights and large vehicles weren’t enough to save Petty from what happened next.
Petty said she was putting a medical bag back in the fire engine when she was hit by a car and flew through the air.
“I had been thrown and I had landed in the grass, which I think is a huge part of my saving grace because if I had landed in the pavement or been pinned against the engine, it could have taken my life,” she said.
Petty walked away with her life, but that night still sticks with her.
“I was in so much pain and sore all over, not just my leg, just head to toe,” she said. “I had to have help bathing, getting in and out of the bath, I had to have help getting out of bed, on and off the toilet, on and off the couch, just everything was in pain.”
Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Tanner said Petty’s accident is the first he can recall since joining the department in 2015. Still, these incidents happen every day across the nation.
The National Fire Protection Association reported 61 firefighters were killed across the country by vehicles between 2000 and 2013. The number of injuries and near-misses is even greater.
“It does make it personal whenever it happens to you,” Tanner said. “We can read it all day long happening all over the country, but when it happens at home, it makes it real personal and makes us take another step to look is there anything else we can do.”
Tanner said since Petty’s accident, the department has reminded all firefighters to be extra cautious on the roadways. However, this accident wasn’t the fault of anyone in the department.
“In our incident that happened recently, we did everything we were supposed to do and even though we do everything right, sometimes accidents still happen,” Tanner said.
The way emergency vehicles are parked on the side of the road to the stripes on the back of the firetruck are ways first responders take safety precautions.
“Everything is being done,” Tanner said. “We train them to use every resource we have but accidents are still happening.”
The effect of those accidents takes a huge toll on the first responders involved.
“It’s depressing because you go from one life to another all of a sudden,” Petty said. “It’s amazing how your life can change in the matter of seconds.”
Months later, Petty is back on light duty and is expected to resume her normal duties by early May.
The driver who hit Petty was charged with driving at a greater speed than is reasonable under conditions. A jury trail was requested for the case in early February.
However, the Move Over Law is aimed at protecting first responders working on roadways in South Carolina. The driver who hit Petty was not issued a Move Over ticket, so WMBF decided to look into why.
Find out more about the Move Over law and its enforcement in part two of this four-part series.