GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Georgetown County Fire and EMS officials are reorganizing their resources as they struggle to hire and keep paramedics on the job.
Currently, the department has 16 open positions and needs at least six paramedics for those jobs. The shortfall has forced the department to shuffle its crews to make sure Georgetown County communities are covered.
“We’ve had some positions open for a while,” Georgetown County Assistant Chief Tony Hucks said. “With our amount of paramedics, we always keep a minimum of five ambulances on the road in service all the time. And they all were paramedic and EMT. But then when we got down a little more on paramedics, we were trying to figure out how we could continuously work the medics we had and contain some overtime.”
With the department’s new strategy, the ambulance based at the department’s headquarters will no longer have a paramedic on board.
Instead, it will be manned by two EMTs.
“They are surrounded by trucks with paramedics on them, and they are close to the hospital a large portion of the time. And even if they pick up a critical patient, they are very close to the hospital,” Hucks said.
Officials say paramedics are hard to find right now and hard to keep on the job because of higher pay in other counties and other states.
Currently, Georgetown County is offering $40,970 for a first-time, starting salary.
“I’m sure salaries play a role in it, and if they can go to another county and make more money, you can’t fault someone for that,” Hucks said.
Officials believe their plan to reorganize the department’s resources won’t jeopardize the community’s safety. However, there are others in the industry who are critical of the approach.
“If you’re short staffed, that means you have an inability to do the job of protecting the civilians and that’s our priority, that’s our oath,” Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina Vice President Bill Pesature said. “We protect life and property…and it’s hard to do your job if they don’t give you the tools.”
Pesature is concerned that Georgetown County’s strategy could put communities at risk and create a dangerous work environment for first responders.
“If you don’t have the right amount of people responding to an event, how are you supposed to handle that event?” he said.
In response, the association is advocating for better pay for first responders.