While finding solutions to HCFR's problems, officials could look to the past


Low pay. Low morale. Staffing shortage.

Sound familiar?

These issues have been used to describe the state of Horry County Fire Rescue as officials gear up for the county's annual budget retreat later this month.

However, they're also problems county leaders faced in 2008, forcing them to take actions to shore up the department.

“There’s no more important sector of county government to the community at large, to the citizens at large, than public safety," Former Horry County Council Chairman Liz Gilland told ABC15.

Gilland served on Horry County Council from 1995 to 2010, and served as the chair when a top-to-bottom study was commissioned to examine the state of the fire department.

The TriData project team met with many fire department and county officials during the project, and over two dozen volunteers, who provided valuable feedback," the document begins. "The report addresses in separate sections the following topics: management and organization; risk and demand analysis; fire and EMS operations; station location, response time, and workload analysis, and; training, apparatus, and capital needs."

It identified weaknesses in the department, including locations of certain stations, equipment needs, staffing concerns, and training improvements.

Over the course of 196 pages, the team who assembled the report made numerous suggestions to officials on how to grow and improve service to the county.

"They brought back a lot of recommendations, and they were worth their weight in gold. And we at the time began implementing a lot of them," Gilland said, mentioning the addition of cross-training fire and EMS employees, a practice that continues today.

We asked her why she thought the issues addressed after the 2008 report have reappeared 10 years later.

"I think sometimes the concerns lose their place in priority with changing of council, changing of the administrator, with other crises popping up," Gilland explained.

However, 2008 was not the last time officials were concerned about the department.

In 2013, council members and fire department administrators met when the department's ISO-5 rating was in jeopardy of increasing, which would cause insurance rates to increase.

During the discussion, salaries and staffing levels were mentioned. As the discussion turned to paying for whatever improvements were implemented, officials weighed the cost of increasing taxes against the cost of an insurance rate increase.

Gilland, who had left public service by the 2013 meeting, told ABC15 she hopes taxpayers will back whatever solutions council decides to move forward with this month.

RELATED: Council chairman promises solutions to HCFR problems at upcoming budget retreat

"When it comes to life or death situations, which fire is, you might not want to pay $10 more in taxes, until your house starts to burn," she said.

However, Gilland warned current council members that short-term solutions won't fix the department's woes.

"I always worry about knee-jerk reactions to big problems, and so I hope they put a lot of thought and energy into the correct solution for the multitude of problems that we have," she said.

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