Low firefighter pay worries Waccamaw Neck residents

Firefighters at Midway Fire Rescue in Pawleys Island are getting trained this week in roof ventilation, the proper way to cut into the roof of a burning home.

But some residents of the Waccamaw Neck area worry that as soon as those firefighters get trained they'll leave, since their starting pay is far below that of other area departments.

"Typically, we're running about $4,000 to $6,000 behind the various ranks," said Midway Fire Chief Doug Eggiman.

Midway firefighters start out at around $27,000 a year, compared to just over $32,000 in Horry County.

Eggiman says the quality of service is still high. Midway was named South Carolina's small EMS system of the year in 2011.

But a former member of the fire district board says losing experienced firefighters is a problem, since training is costly.

"You don't want to have someone come into your house, if you're ill or your house is on fire or something, who isn't fully up to the job and what it takes to get up to the job is constant training," said former board president Richard Faulk.

Faulk says the department has to pay for health exams, uniforms and turnout gear for each new firefighter, plus overtime for others while the new people to come on board.

Faulk and other supporters of a pay increase for Midway fire personnel say it's time to talk about a property tax increase if that's what it takes to hang on to those firefighters.

"It's a tough decision and I realize that, I'm a taxpayer," Faulk said. "My main thing is that (County) Council has a responsibility for the protection and the welfare of the citizens in Georgetown County and the Waccamaw Neck."

Faulk said he believes Waccamaw Neck property owners would be willing to pay a one to two mil tax increase to accommodate higher pay for firefighters.

A spokesperson for Georgetown County says the county council may discuss raises for firefighters within the next month.