Horry County Fire Rescue eliminates mandatory overtime

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Mandatory overtime for Horry County Fire Rescue workers will soon be a thing of the past.

Last year, News13 told you in a special report that Horry County Fire Rescue had to implement mandatory overtime shifts because of a shortage in the department. Our investigation came after an ambulance driver crashed during his second 24 hour mandatory overtime shift.

After two recruiting classes brings in 40 new rescue squad members, the department will finally be able to end those mandatory shifts.

For Erik Osman, this training is a long time coming. The Horry County native has served as a volunteer firefighter, and the desire to help people runs in his family.

“I think being a firefighter is the coolest job in the world,” Osman says. “My dad’s a doctor and my mom’s a nurse so that always interested me.”

The 19-year-old says his dream is to become a paramedic.

News13’s Taylor Herlong spent the day with Osman and other recruits during a part of their training process. Horry County Fire Rescue leaders say these recruits are strongly needed.

“Putting the guys back in the schedule means relieving some of the stresses of overtime, mandatory overtime, and obviously it puts people back to work out in the streets,” explains HCFR Battalion Chief Brian Van Aernem.

In 2016, the department experienced such a shortage that rescue workers were working shifts as long as 48 hours straight. And with a national shortage in paramedics, the crucial role wasn’t easy to fill.

“Paramedics and EMTs are the backbone of our service; it’s really what we do,” says Van Aernem. “We’re a fire agency and a medical agency and 70 to 80 percent of our calls are medical calls, so it’s really what we do.”

The department just had 19 recruits to graduate training, and 23 more are going through recruitment now. Despite the growth, Van Aernem says the challenge isn’t over. Now they’ll have to work to keep their newest members as part of the team.

“Turnover here is, you know, it’s a tough thing,” admits Van Aernem. “We’re a transient population. It’s the beach, so we’ve always had a high turnover or seem to always have a high turnover. I know it’s something that Mr. Eldridge and administration and council, they’re, you know, all over trying to figure out how can we get the guys here and keep them here.”

One thing the department is doing to help recruits move along and get the training for positions they want is by partnering with Horry Georgetown Technical College. They work with them in a paramedic training program to train HCFR staff members in house to take the positions and stay with the department.