HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County Fire Rescue is preparing to hire 30 recruits to add to its ranks.
Out of over 200 applicants, HCFR officials said 69 went through physical training Wednesday. Hopes are to interview the finalists through the next week.
For firefighters, new recruits aren't just more help inside the department; they're mandatory overtime relief.
Mandatory overtime is a department policy that was put in place in January 2015, HCFR spokesman Capt. Mark Nugent said. Since then, it's never stopped. However, it's not used unless there's a need to fill a shift vacancy.
The policy is there to ensure all fire stations are staffed enough to function and adequately respond to emergencies. Firefighters are first asked to work the shortage on a volunteer basis, but if not all empty shifts are filled, mandatory overtime is required.
"If nobody answers their text, we go to that mandatory list and it's a rotating list," Nugent said.
The minimal staffing level for HCFR is 88 people spread throughout all county fire stations. The county fire department operates between an A, B and C shift rotation, meaning at least 88 people must work each of those shifts, according to Nugent. A volunteer or mandated overtime worker will fill the empty slot at whatever station needs it.
The hope is 30 new recruits will stick with HCFR once hired and make a career as a county firefighter/EMT.
In addition to those recruits, another class of nine is expected to graduate at the end of August. Those soon-to-be-grads, Nugent said, already had partial training.
"Having more people to fill some of those spots should lessen that burden with having regular overtime and mandatory overtime," Nugent said.
Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue Lt. Jonathan Evans, like Nugent, said mandatory overtime is required most often when employees take vacation or are sick. However, unlike HCFR, MBFR mandates based on seniority.
Midway Fire Rescue Chief Doug Eggiman agreed that mandatory overtime can be frustrating, but shutting down a truck for lack of staffing isn't an option.
The Murrells Inlet fire chief said his department does not have or use a mandatory overtime policy.
HCFR isn't the only department currently in the hiring process. According to Evans, MBFR received about 500 applicants. Of that number, 10 to 15 will be hired.
But in Horry County, firefighters said it's wearing them out when they can't prepare for the toll of working an extra shift. They said the mandated shift rotation is every nine shifts, and the policy's demand is part of the reason HCFR currently has 30 vacancies to fill.
In response, Nugent said each firefighter is aware ahead of time when his or her mandated shift is coming. One firefighter said a mandated shift usually occurs about once a month.
Nugent said no HCFR employee can work more than 96 hours of overtime in a 28-day cycle, noting it's a department policy.
He added that the entire department is working to make mandatory overtime a policy rarely acted on. Until then, the incoming class of recruits is being anxiously awaited.
When asked how many days in 2017 HCFR employees have been mandated to work, Nugent said he didn't immediately have that number.