Firefighters from Georgetown County, South Carolina are again attempting to raise public awareness regarding the ongoing critical firefighter and paramedic staffing shortage within the county. The Georgetown Professional Firefighters Association, Local 4526, has posted a three-page letter on its Facebook page that provides examples of how the “critical staffing shortage” is impacting the firefighters ability to serve the community.
According to the union, firefighters are frequently being forced to work 48 hours on, followed by only 24 hours off, instead of the typical 24 hours on, followed by 48 hours off firefighting schedule. This is causing extremely high employee turn-over rates and burnout. Additionally, the county is frequently forced to shut-down advanced life support ambulances and substitute basic life support units due to an ongoing paramedic shortage.
The firefighters also claim the county’s staffing practices are unsafe. According to county firefighters, engine companies are frequently staffed with only one firefighter and even with this staffing model, companies have had to shut down due to staff shortages. The firefighters estimate it could take up to 15 minutes to get the required four firefighters on a fire scene to begin interior suppression activities.
The firefighters also raise several valid points in the letter relative to retention and recruiting efforts. First, low pay and excessive overtime is creating challenges to recruiting new firefighters. County firefighters make five to ten thousand dollars less than neighboring jurisdictions. Starting pay for county firefighter/paramedics is around $44,000 while firefighter/EMTs make just over $36,000 per year. Second, the prospect of a newly trained firefighter working alone on a single-person engine company for a 24-hour shift is daunting for many aspiring firefighters and impacts the county’s recruiting efforts. Finally, these issues have been ongoing for quite some time in Georgetown County. Hopefully, raising the public’s awareness of the firefighters’ plight will result in meaningful changes in the days and weeks to come.
Click here for the full letter located on the Firefighters Association’s Facebook page.
Here is more from the story from The Sun News, including a very well-produced video outlining many of the firefighters’ concerns.