MBFR: Beach service calls higher than ever, highlighting need fo - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

MBFR: Beach service calls higher than ever, highlighting need for equipment to match

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It's shaping up to be a busy season for first responders. The Grand Strand saw an alarming amount of drownings last summer, but service calls to the beach this year are already higher than last.

Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue began their beach patrols April 15.  The team has already answered over 100 calls to the beach in those three weeks.  Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue Spokesman Lt. Jon Evans said those calls range from distressed swimmers and jellyfish stings to non-emergency, beach-related questions.

The nine-hour patrols readily give beachgoers aid.  Food, water, vinegar for jellyfish stings and emergency equipment are among the items carried on the water rescue UTVs you will see Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue team members ride in.  Many calls relate to the heat.  Water rescue team member Joey Millspaugh had advice for people headed to the beach this summer.  

"You've got to make sure you're hydrated. So, you've got to do that a couple days in advance.  If you've started drinking water the day you're on the beach it's already too late. So, you've got to hydrate a couple days in advance," said Millspaugh.  He said water rescue members heed that advice before patrolling the sand as well.

Lt. Evans explained there's an influx of wildlife in the waters this year.  Specifically jellyfish and loggerheads turtles drawn because of the jellyfish.  Just in the last week, he said Manta Rays swam around practicing beach patrol members, and people called in fire rescue thinking loggerhead turtles were distressed swimmers.

Lt. Evans said beach patrol will increase from two teams of two, to three teams of two by Memorial Day weekend.

"As more people come on the beach, I know we're going to have a few more issues with people not being used to being in the ocean, or not realizing how rough it is out there.  Maybe getting in a situation they're not comfortable with. The main thing is just don't get yourself in to a situation if you can help it that can get you to have a drowning issue," Lt. Evans said.

As more opportunities come about, including the recent emergency water landing by plane, Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue beach patrol is gaining more momentum and recognition, Lt. Evans said.   The positive conversation is a great thing to have, considering the team is only in their second year and in need of more equipment.

Lt. Evans said Tuesday's water rescue for the pilot in the downed plane was a perfect example of why Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue needs jet skis.  Members were the first in the water, but the pilot was too far out to be rescued by swimming.

"Fortunately those helicopters came out and dropped a PFD for the gentleman to use until the jet ski got out there...but, you know, that's the thing...the more equipment you have, the better spread out it is, the easier we can get to things like that.  So it's hard to plan for those to happen, and sometimes those instances happen real quick, so it's hard to have everything where you need it," Lt. Evans said.

Lifeguard services and the Myrtle Beach Police Department's beach patrol unit are the only ones with jet skis.  However, there's not many, and they're spread out on different ends of Myrtle Beach.

Jet skis aren't the only equipment needed to match the growing department's needs, Lt. Evans said.  He explained the department recently graduated a fire class with nine extra members, giving more opportunities to man equipment.  In addition to more equipment, the fire department is hoping to expand to a seventh fire station.  The fire station would be built on Coventry Boulevard near Market Common.  The Myrtle Beach spokesman said those plans are years away from becoming reality.

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