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ABC 15 Special Report: Horry County paramedics speak out

(WPDE)

They say they're overworked and underappreciated. And it could potentially be affecting your family's safety.

For the first time since their complaints about the department were made public, Horry County paramedics agreed to speak on camera about the risks they say officials are taking with people's lives.

RELATED: Amid paramedics' claims of exhaustion, HCFR begins to change recruiting tactics

"We don't feel that the county government is putting out the true word of what we're dealing with," one paramedic told us. "Our people are being beat down."

ABC15 spoke to six different paramedics, two of whom agreed to go on camera under the condition we protect their identities.

"Studies done everywhere [show] that EMS, towards the end of their shift, do not provide as good of care as they did when they started their shift," one said. "Especially on 24 hour shifts."

The paramedic was referring to a 2012 study done by US National Library of Medicine researchers, which found EMS workers are twice as likely to make a medical error when they're tired.

Bill Pesature, Vice President of the South Carolina International Association of Firefighters, said EMS workers shouldn't be allowed to work long shifts.

"Pilots. Boat captains. Over road truckers," he listed. "They limit the number of hours they can be on duty, then they have to be out. How is it not affecting people who have to drive an ambulance, and then get there and take care of somebody and be effective?"

The paramedics also said pay problems caused veteran paramedics to look for jobs elsewhere.

They said veteran paramedic salaries are close to what new hires make because starting salaries have been raised through the years, but pay raises haven't kept up.

Horry County Councilman Al Allen said every department in the country will have overtime requirements because someone has to staff the ambulances at all times.

As for Horry County Fire Rescue's budget, he said the county has limited resources to handle such a large population.

"You have one pie. And it has to be sliced," Allen said, motioning with his hands. "Every agency wants more of that slice or has to have more of that slice. And it all falls back to what the citizens want."

As for paramedic safety, Allen said people working overtime are moved to less busy stations.

Some paramedics said that's true in theory, but in practice it's hard to predict which stations will be busy on any given day.

In March, county officials announced changes to HCFR's deployment model, as well as a pay raise.

RELATED: HCFR considering changing patient policy for picking hospital during ambulance transport

The deployment changes received mostly positive reviews, but most paramedics thought the raise would do little to separate the salaries out.

Lastly, the paramedics wished they could spend more time at home, and less working overtime.

"I'm married with kids. My wife feels like a single mom. It's not fair to her," one said.

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