Officials look back on wildfire, SCFC looks at budget cuts

Horry County, SC - CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Nearly a year after a wildfire blazed through Horry County, officials say they are learning to work better with other emergency agencies after reports show communication broke down during the April 2009 disaster.

In March, the South Carolina Forestry Commission released a 35-page After Action Report. The report said the three agencies involved in the wildfire efforts - Horry County Fire Rescue, the City of North Myrtle Beach and the South Carolina Forestry Commission - did not communicate effectively.

Horry County Fire Rescue Chief Garry Alderman says over the past year, the agency has worked with the SCFC to fix the noted communication problems.

"That's one of the things that we need to do," said Alderman. "You have to have a good interoperability [and] the capability there on the radios because there's nothing better than being able to talk back and forth to each other."

During the wildfire, the Horry County Fire Rescue and the North Myrtle Beach Fire Department say they had trouble communicating with the Forestry Commission because their radios operated on different bandwidths.

"What we've done is give some of our radios to some of the plow operators in Horry County that work for forestry," explained Alderman.

Alderman also adds that the department has received a grant that allowed them to add 18 firefighters to their staff this year, as well as buy new wildfire gear that's lighter than the typical structure fire gear.

However, while Horry County is adding positions, it's a different story for the South Carolina Forestry Commission. The agency is facing some tough decisions with a tight budget, according to spokesman Scott Hawkins.

"The budget is forcing us to offer buyout incentives for our most veteran employees and we're replacing them with folks, who when we can hire, have not seen that kind of natural disaster," explained Hawkins.

Hawkins also adds that with a smaller and less seasoned staff, it could start to have an impact in how effective the commission can be in the future.

"We could see another cut of about 45 percent lower than where we were a couple years ago," said Hawkins. "That's a significant drop in our ability to fight wildfires."

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