Email from HCFR employee to county council: 'Help us'

Page 1 of the letter

An email sent from a HCFR employee to county council members on January 6 begged officials to look into the department's retention issues, saying it was "a formal cry for help."

"We need retention. We need recruitment. We need YOUR HELP!" the anonymous writer said.

One month later, the firefighter union president publicly addressed council members with similar concerns.

RELATED: Horry County first responders sound the alarm on overtime

The author mentioned the exhaustion employees felt with the department's "rolling mandatory" overtime policy, claiming it had already caused accidents and injuries, and affected the level of care citizens receive.

The letter also mentioned that the Surfside Beach ambulance, also known as Medic 31, had gone without a paramedic on staff for more than 24 hours during Christmas - That claim has been made repeatedly by other employees of the department to ABC15 crews throughout our investigation.

HCFR spokesman Mark Nugent downplayed the significance of that occurring, since ambulances are often tied up responding to calls on a normal day.

After officials received the letter, they immediately began going over the facts of the department's recruiting efforts and searching for possible solutions.

One idea that was brought up was hiring part-time paramedics.

Another was training paramedics in-house, likely through a partnership with Horry Georgetown Technical College.

Firefighter Union President Rob Mullaney said that idea has been tried before, to less-than-stellar results.

"The last one [that graduated in May 2017] specifically, there were seven [paramedics] that were in the class, and there are only two that are on the street right now," Mullaney said.

Still, two new paramedics could help the department fill empty positions and decrease the amount of required overtime for current employees.

County Administrator Chris Eldridge noted in a response, "Paramedics are at a premium nationally."

RELATED: HCFR looks to county that solved staffing problems years ago

Part of the problem, employees said, is that people work for HCFR while they are training, and the department pays for the training.

Then, they leave the department for a bigger salary in a neighboring county.

Colleton County, for example, offers a starting salary of $59,700 for paramedics, far higher than Horry County.

Mullaney said the only long-term solution to the staffing and morale problem was to increase pay.

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