MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With ocean rescues already occurring before the summer season, first responders are looking ahead as to how to keep visitors and locals safe at the beach. Officials began the planning last year to see what they could change this year, and those plans are coming to fruition now. One major change is the spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on improved beach equipment.
Myrtle Beach Police patrol the beaches year around, but the fire department is starting their seasonal patrols Saturday morning. Lt. Jon Evans, the Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue spokesman, said the fire department, Myrtle Beach Police, Horry County Police and the local lifeguard services collaborate their efforts for the most effective beach emergency responses. Over a dozen people drowned or were lost at sea as a 'missing swimmer' last summer. But Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue Chief Alvin Payne said not to forget the people saved by patrol and lifeguard services. One day last summer, 50 people were saved from waters in the Grand Strand. For more on that story, click here.
Both the Myrtle Beach Police beach patrol and Fire Rescue's patrol are seeing significant changes to accommodate the growing need and service calls for the community.
According to the Myrtle Beach Police Department, 3,000 calls for service came in between March and September of last year. In the last five years, the number of calls has risen 135 percent. The most calls for service are happening between 9 p.m. and midnight, according to a police report. The number of emergency calls between noon and 3 p.m. is also high. Chief Payne said the fire department responded to 300 medically related beach calls last summer, many jellyfish stings. Lt. Evans said the 2016 season was the fire department's first season with a beach squad, and having the ability to keep a team there for minor first aid calls kept other firefighters ready at the station for big emergencies.
Lt. Evans said the fire department will start their patrol at 10 a.m. Police beach patrol starts at 6 a.m. Each patrol units will run between ten and twelve hours.
Fire Rescue has used accommodations tax money to buy a new Chevy beach patrol truck and three beach UTVs, similar to a four wheeler. The A-tax money is also supporting overtime costs. Lt. Evans said MBFD beach patrol will start with one patrol team of two, then as the summer progresses, have three teams of two on the beach. The MBFD beach squad has increased from about twenty member to thirty-three.
The Myrtle Beach Police Department is bringing a treasure box of new equipment to its beach patrol unit. According to MBPD, its required this new equipment for this season:
portable waterproof VHF radios (3)
handheld range finder (3)
wet suits (7)
wet suit gloves and boots (10)
rescue swim fins (10)
scuba mask and snorkel (10)
Garmin GPS (2)
The police department is still working to add a third jet ski ($11,000), one small patrol boat ($45,000) and supplemental teams with an estimated overtime cost at $42,705. The police department is still working to get the lost child wristband program, which has been previously reported on by WMBF News.
Also reported on by WMBF News was the police department's request to buy a gyrocopter. It's main purpose is for drug enforcement, but the $200,000 piece of equipment can also be used for water search and rescue. The gyrocopter was voted on by Myrtle Beach City Council Tuesday, and approved. It will be bought with drug seizure money. The Myrtle Beach city spokesman told WMBF News the gyrocopter will be here in 3 months. For more on that story, click here.