MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMB) - It was the most destructive wildfire South Carolina has ever seen and now the North Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue Squad is ready if something like that ever happens again.
When firefighters respond, mere seconds matter. Aaron Asbury remembers that day in April 2009 when the infamous wildfire ripped through 20,000 acres in Horry County.
"In just a matter of seconds we were running down the street because the wind had changed direction. It was like a roaring train and the fire was as high as the top of the trees," says Aaron Asbury.
The Department immediately realized they had step up their preparations so they weren't caught off guard ever again.
"As a public safety department it's always best to try and be as proactive as possible and a couple of years ago, we found ourselves in the reactive mode, but I think this was a a great response to that," says Director of the NMB Public Safety Department, Jay Fernandez.
Now five members of the North Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue Squad are Red-Card Wildland Certified, meaning they can battle those blazes that rage through our forests. Those who received their red card certification were Captain Mike Davis, Firefighter/EMT Aaron Asbury, Firefighter/EMT Brad Infante, Firefighter/EMT Darrin Jacques, and Firefighter/Paramedic James Vreeland.
But getting to this goal, wasn't a walk in the park. "These guys, they had to take a pretty rough physical course," says North Myrtle Beach Chief of Fire Rescue, Tom Barstow.
That's an understatement. "They wore something quite similar to this in their 3 mile walk, it was actually 15 pounds heavier."
They dragged a total of 100 pounds of gear around a track, in under 45 minutes. Aaron Asbury says it was well worth the blood, sweat and tears, but says passing the test is just the beginning of a whole new chapter.
"Something when you've been doing firefighting for 15 or 16 years, fighting one type of fire, it's a new animal," says Asbury.
With the exception of several new recruits, all City of North Myrtle Beach firefighters have completed the classroom portion of the South Carolina Forestry Commission's wildland firefighting classes and practical field exercise. The City of North Myrtle Beach is the only municipality to have this red-card level of wildfire certification in the entire state of South Carolina. It's a huge accomplishment and they say this is just the beginning. Chief Bartow says they hope to have a used brush truck in North Myrtle Beach within the next four weeks. They say that is one more indicator that their plans to expand the services is becoming a reality.