Risk Management

Our society, like a great machine, is composed of many intricate, delicate moving parts, all of which must continue to spin in their designated orbits in order for the whole to function properly. No part, however small or subtle, is insignificant.

There lies at the foundation of our machine a veritable army of men and women, quietly toiling away far from the brilliant spotlight, who are devoted only to the service and safety of all the other moving parts. They do it not for great reward, for the compensation, whatever the amount, could never be enough. They do it not for want of praise or recognition, for what little recognition ever comes is often etched only upon their headstones or upon a plaque commemorating their ultimate sacrifice. They do not do it because it is easy, glamorous work, because it is not. It is, in fact, painfully difficult, often ugly and terrifyingly dangerous. When these vital parts of our great machine whir into action, when these firefighters, law enforcement officers and EMS workers are dispatched to a call for help, there is always, always the potential for terrible disaster. Any call, every call, could very well be their last. There is, in fact, no such thing as a “routine call.” Even the most simple of operations can turn deadly without a moment’s notice.

The events of Jan. 3, when a Fairfield County EMS crew was viciously attacked while responding to a “routine call,” drive that point home. It may be unthinkable that one whom emergency responders are trying to serve would become so unhinged that they attack their servants, but grief can sometimes lead to hysteria, and hysteria produces its own unpredictable consequences. What is perhaps even more unthinkable is that, in our post-9/11 world – a world where every state, county and town, however small and however unlikely a target, is armed to the teeth in preparation for the next potential terrorist attack – an EMS worker cannot simply pick up his or her radio and call for police backup.

Instead, that call has to be routed through central dispatch, then sent out to an officer on patrol while precious time ticks away at the scene of the attack. Plainly stated, their radios just won’t talk to each other. Firefighters, law enforcement and EMS each operate on their own band of radio frequencies, making direct contact with one another an impossibility. It is like trying to pick up an AM station on your FM dial. It cannot be done.

This problem is not unique to Fairfield County, nor is it unique to South Carolina. Emergency responders all over the United States face this same issue every day of the week. Remedying this problem is not a great scientific hurdle. It would not take the efforts of an Apollo Program to open the lines of communication between all branches of our emergency responders. But it is expensive. The entire radio network would have to be replaced with modern, updated equipment; and in our Tea Party driven, post-earmark world, finding those funds will take some considerable creativity.

Fairfield County is working to do so, pounding the pavement for grant funds to help match any County contribution. Let’s hope they’re able to make it happen before the next “routine call” goes haywire. Because even when the smallest part of the machine goes down, the gears stop turning for all of us.