Horry County Fire Rescue officials shed light on call volume, re - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Horry County Fire Rescue officials shed light on call volume, rescue training

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – As the Grand Strand's population booms, the county and cities have been trying to keep up with road repairs, encouraging business growth and real estate, but the Horry County Fire Rescue Department is a public service in the county that is being spread thin.

Firefighters and paramedics with Horry County Fire Rescue respond at a moment's notice to your emergency. But right now, the number of first responders does not match the growth rate in the county. According to county records, in 2007, there were 275 full-time employees. In 2014, there were 356. To put this in perspective, the call volume increased by more than 11,000 in that same amount of time.

County leaders were actually anticipating something like this might happen and wanted to avoid it. So back in 2007 and 2008, the county brought in an outside research company to do an analysis of the department and give recommendations for areas of improvement. The almost 200 page report found fire and EMS staffing to be inadequate, with an insufficient number of volunteers being distributed through the stations. Leaders say to fix this, they've developed a better recruitment program and training practices across the board.

LINK: 2008 Horry County Fire Rescue Fire Study (Warning: Very large 20-megabyte PDF file)

“There's a couple stations this side of the waterway that are just very strong and we have a lot out in the country,” says Battalion Chief Brian VanAernem with Horry County Fire Rescue. “You know, if some of those guys don't show up, we don't get our tankers out. And that's our water. But we rely pretty heavily on a lot of these guys. If they weren't there, you know, we'd make it happen. But they're definitely the backbone of who we are.”

Rob Myers, the aide to the deputy for HCFR, says there are 461 volunteers for the department and that number has increased significantly over the past two years. There is no official state-recommended number for what's needed to be considered fully staffed.

According to the study, the fire risks in Horry County are in the range normally found in similar counties. But, the study also said that the county has lower-than-average number of fires, but higher-than-average number of casualties.

In 2014, HFCR crews responded to more than 54,000 fire and medical calls. With numbers like these, there is no margin for error. That's why every day, firefighters and paramedics are spending hours training and practicing their skills. On top of the training to become a firefighter or a paramedic, there is also yearly training to keep up with certifications.

For firefighters, it's 400 hours of training to make just the initial investment. That's done over about 10 weeks for career firemen and about five months for volunteers. On top of that, they have to put in at least 240 training hours each year. That turns out to be about two to six hours each shift.

They're checking fire hydrants, updating their maps, learning their area, studying building construction, and practicing techniques, all to make sure they get it right when it matters most. “The stations that are running 20 calls a day, 15 to 20 calls a day, you know, there's days that they have to cram all that in and run calls. Because obviously calls are the priority. So these guys are working! They're out here and really giving it their all,” says Bat. Chief VanAernem.

Medical training is also important for these first responders. Crews are called out to more medical emergencies than fire calls every year. Last month alone, there were nearly 4,000 medical calls compared to the 542 fire calls. The basic EMT gets 200 hours of in-class training. A paramedic gets 500 hours of in-class training. Then they both have 300 to 400 hours of ride time with crews before being certified. A paramedic must go through extra clinicals in the ER, OR, and ICU.

Other than your safety, another reason why this training is so important is the more state requirements the department meets, the more it affects the ISO rating and brings down the insurance cost for the community.

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