EMS Crew Attacked; County Reviewing Communication Issues

Fairfield – Fairfield County is looking into ways to improve the way first responders communicate with one another following an incident earlier this month in which an EMS worker was attacked by a Columbia man while responding to an ambulance call in Ridgeway.

According to an incident report from the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, an EMS crew responded to a call at 2250 Bellfield Road in Ridgeway just after 10 p.m. Jan. 3. As EMS workers loaded a 49-year-old woman into the ambulance, her son, Kevin Bryant Duncan Jr., of Killian Lakes Drive in Columbia, also climbed inside the vehicle. When EMS workers asked him to exit the vehicle, he refused and attacked the EMS crew. One crew member, a 47-year-old Winnsboro man, suffered a left shoulder injury while attempting to remove Duncan from the vehicle. Duncan then shoved a second crew member, a 56-year-old woman, and told her he was “going to kill her,” the report states. The woman then struck Duncan in the head with a Lucas Device (a heavy, portable chest compression instrument used in cardiac cases) before Duncan was finally extracted from the vehicle. Duncan was arrested several hours later at Fairfield memorial Hospital by Sheriff’s deputies and charged with simple assault.

Davis Anderson, Deputy Administrator for Fairfield County, said the Sheriff’s Office might have responded sooner to the incident had EMS workers been able to contact them directly through their radios. However, Anderson said, Fairfield County, like many other counties across the state, operates on several different radio frequencies. Fairfield County emergency workers, he said, use three different frequencies – one for the fire department, one for EMS and one for the Sheriff’s Office. With the various departments utilizing different frequencies, a call for assistance from EMS to the Sheriff’s office must first be routed through central dispatch, then back to a deputy on patrol.

“You never know what you’re walking into when you respond to an emergency call,” Anderson said. “Right now, if you need help, you have to go through two different channels to get it. If they could have talked directly to one another, deputies could have gotten there sooner.”

The incident was brought up at the Jan. 14 County Council meeting, where Anderson told Council that an updated radio system would be necessary in the long-term. That will require funding, Anderson said later, and the County is exploring grant funds to make such a system a reality. In the short-term, a new signal tower and additional dual-band radios could improve communications, Anderson said, but that would not overcome the issue of multiple frequencies.

Anderson said the price tag for the upgrades could run into the millions of dollars, noting that the entire infrastructure, including signal towers, would have to be replaced. And the upgrades would not only include Fairfield County’s three emergency responder departments, but would have to include state police, the hospital and local municipalities as well.