Horry County Fire Rescue crews say mandatory overtime policy shows bigger problem

HCFR

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – An ambulance hit a concrete barrier last Wednesday on the 17 Bypass  near Surfside.

Another medic and patient were inside the ambulance during the crash, but no one was hurt.
County Spokesperson Lisa Bourcier confirmed the driver was on a second 24-hour mandatory overtime shift.

According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, there were 12 reported collisions involving an Horry County ambulance last year and already 2 reported this year.

While we don’t know if driver fatigue played a part in all of those crashes, we know it did in the most recent one, and people within the department say this highlights a bigger problem that’s not just in Horry County.

Brian Van Aernem with Horry County Fire Rescue says safety is the main concern, but with a shortage in the department, crew members are forced to serve mandatory overtime to make sure you get the help you need.

“Sometimes we have openings, you know, that we need to fill. So, sometimes, we have to hold people over to make sure that we have the appropriate number of ambulances and fire trucks out on the road,” said Van Aernem.

The mandatory overtime policy was implemented in October of 2015 when Scott Thompson was interim fire chief, but at this month’s public safety meeting, council member Paul Prince told the new fire chief, Joseph Tanner, he didn’t agree with the policy.

“If you’ve got people out there who want to work their regular hours and don’t want to work no more hours, then it looks like we could accommodate that. They have a reason,” said Prince.

Van Aernem says the policy isn’t unusual.

“Any fire department probably in the country has some sort of mandatory overtime, now how much they use it, it varies up and down,” said Van Aernem.

News13 reached out to a couple of departments in our area.

The Murrells Inlet chief says they’ve never had a mandatory overtime policy, and they don’t plan to in the future.

North Myrtle Beach operates on a volunteer-based overtime policy, with the last resort being mandatory overtime they say they very rarely use.

Florence County EMS crews say they operate on a scheduled overtime with a rule crews never exceed 24 hours.

However, all of the departments agree some sort of overtime policy is almost unavoidable because this is a problem bigger than any of their crews.

“If you look at the paramedics across the country, there is a shortage across the country. I mean, this isn’t a local problem, this is a problem that’s nationally,” said Van Aernem.

Van Arnem with Horry County Fire Rescue told me some relief will come soon. A group of firemen and EMT graduates will join the department this Friday, and they’re looking to hire even more.

Bourcier said they want to shift crew members from busy stations to less active ones, and the county has worked with area colleges and school districts to pay for certifications to help with recruitment.

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