HORRY COUNTY, SC — Big changes could be coming to Horry County Fire Rescue. The department and county council unveiled two different proposals during day one of the county’s annual spring budget retreat. One addresses responder pay, and one would change how responders are deployed.
Right now any time you dial 911 for a medical call you’re going to get an ambulance with a paramedic on it, whether you’re having a heart attack or you sprained your ankle.
HCFR says that means they are wasting resources over-treating people. On Thursday, Chief Joseph Tanner rolled out a plan to council to change that. The proposal calls to move certain paramedics off of ambulance duty so that they are not being tied up with minor injuries. The department will try this staffing plan at three of its busier stations.
“If its a BLS call, a basic life support call, we’re only gonna send an ambulance to it, that basic unit,” Capt. Mark Nugent said after the meeting. “We’re not gonna tie a paramedic up on a call that’s not a paramedic-type call.”
Nugent said this could help cut down on mandatory overtime problems the department has dealt with. “Instead of doubling them up, we’ll redeploy nine people to nine of those void spots, so then we’ll only have four void spots a day that we fill within overtime.”
According to a county presentation given Thursday, the department has 16 vacant firefighter EMT positions, eight firefighter paramedic vacancies and five paramedics who are in training or on leave. Those five are not considered vacant positions and are referred to as “void.”
Tanner also announced HCFR is looking into a “surge” program, which would send paramedics to stations and areas receiving a heavy load of calls during a particular time.
The proposed changes to deployment won’t cost the county any money.
Chairman Mark Lazarus also announced Thursday a plan to raise fire and EMS salaries by three percent. That is in addition to a three percent county wide merit increase.
“We need our starting salaries up higher so we can recruit more,” Lazarus said. “We need to get everybody else up more.”
The president of the local chapter of the Association of International Firefighters said he’s not convinced this is a long-term solution.”I’m not really impressed,’ Rob Mullaney said. “They didn’t cover anything about compression, which is a major problem.”
News13 asked Lazarus how the county is addressing the pay compression issue, which is when you have small differences in pay regardless of experience.
“The way we put it together is it gets our base pay up and then it takes everybody above that higher too,” he said.
These conversations will continue past Thursday, as nothing was set in stone at the retreat.
The cost of that three percent fire/EMS pay increase is $508,000 in the first year. Lazarus said the fire fund can absorb that cost this upcoming fiscal year, however Lazarus said the county may have to look at increasing taxes later on.