Fairfield first responders staffing dangerously low, according to state official

WINNSBORO – The Fairfield County Detention Center is short 13 of the 29 officers the S.C. County Association’s insurer says are needed to adequately provide for the health and safety of the Center’s 75 or so prisoners.

Of the 16 current officers, only 13 are carrying a full workload, one is out sick, one is on limited duty and one is deployed in the military, said a source knowledgeable of the staffing.

The county’s EMS department is down 19 employees, and its director, Mike Tanner, left two week ago.

The Sheriff’s department is down 9 officers, leaving all four of the department’s shifts short of deputies, according to Sheriff Will Montgomery.

“Even a $10/hour raise would help stop the drain of our deputies leaving,” he said. He also said the department needs new vehicles.

Fairfield Fire Service Director Jason Pope says he needs at least 60 additional volunteer firefighters to cover the county. The county currently funds just 15 paid firefighters – eight full time and seven part-time.

The director of the County’s Emergency Management Department, Brad Douglas, left his post last week, and the longtime director of the County’s Detention Center, Teresa Lawson, left last month, accusing the county leadership of undermining her work to the point that she, “can no longer do my job.” She wrote in her resignation letter that the county administration is “ineffective, unprofessional, uncaring and unreachable.”

Because of department cutbacks and lack of staff, EMS is no longer able to supply ambulance services to the local high schools for football games and other sports events.

“Until this year, we always provided staffed ambulances to the high schools for the games,” Tanner said. “It would cost the school district about $100 per game to cover the cost of the ambulance staff,” he said. “Now, we’re so short staffed that we can no longer provide those services.”

Fairfield Central hires a private ambulance service at a cost of about $700 per game.

While Rome Burns

Fairfield County employees say they are leaving their jobs for myriad reasons – low salaries, lack of administrative support, low morale and failure of the county to adequately fund their departments or provide necessary vehicles and equipment.

“The county leadership is building and expanding little-used recreation centers, while Rome burns. Literally,” Tanner said.

“I notified County Administrator Malik Whitaker of my retirement on Aug. 19 and I left the same day,” he said.

“All of our county’s emergency services are suffering from a crisis in county leadership,” Tanner told The Voice last week. “We’ve been begging for ambulances and pay raises to help retain our employees and save the lives of our citizens. We get no response.  I’ve been the director of Fairfield’s EMS for over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. There is absolutely no support from the county’s leadership for public safety.”

While the county did not budget for ambulances and sheriff’s vehicles, council voted to use some of the American Rescue Plan money awarded to the county by the federal government to order an ambulance for EMS, a tanker for the fire service and two cars for the Sheriff’s Department, one for the coroner and one for animal control.

Tanner says it’s too little too late.

“It’s been two years since we got a new ambulance, and it will take two more years to get this one built, maybe longer. Until then, the department has to rely on old trucks with over 300,000 miles to get someone on death’s door to the hospital,” Tanner said. “In the past I was able to order one ambulance every year so that in 10 years we completely turned over our ambulance inventory.”

“The fire service does not have a standard for coverage that objectively details the amount of paid firefighters we need,” Fire Service Director Jason Pope said. “But if we are not able to recruit, train and retain more volunteers, then adding more paid firefighters is the only other option.”

According to Pope, not adding personnel (volunteer or paid) will result in higher ISO ratings for the county, causing the residents to have to start paying more for homeowners insurance.

Better Wages Elsewhere

With a record number of employees leaving the public safety departments, The Voice emailed County Administrator Malik Whitaker, asking what the administration’s plans are for fully staffing the county’s public safety departments.

Whitaker did not immediately respond.

A Detention Center officer who came before council last month pleading for higher salaries to retain and recruit more officers told The Voice she got no response from the administration. 

Earlier this week, she left her job at the Detention Center for another job in a neighboring county where she said she received a signing bonus, a higher salary and better working conditions.

Comments

  1. What are other counties doing to address this problem? We need to be able to compete salary wise while looking over each dept. budgets and see where the money is being spent. Pay for any type of employment has increased tremendously since COVID and we must compete.
    Sheriff’s quote in article states his men need $10.00 per hour raise? For a 40 hour week that is $20,800
    increase per yr for each position. How can the county possibility afford this amount? What am I missing? Can the county possibility be that far behind? County is in trouble if you multiply that amount times 100 overall employees, that’s over 2 million per yr. Quote in article below.
    “Even a $10/hour raise would help stop the drain of our deputies leaving,” he said. He also said the department needs new vehicles.( as article states 2 cars, ambulance and a firetruck were just approved).

  2. Mike Bell (NO RELATON TO MOSES) says

    Thank you, Pope and Tanner!

    For speaking up! This administrator and Council do not realize what primary services a county must provide for their citizens. First and far most it is life safety functions. Spending money on monuments that does not look like Mr. Martin Luther King shows how they are wasteful. The monument looks like Moses Bell without glasses. Please go look I am just saying! But back to the topic safety sensitive departments must be funded and equipped or people will die. Not funding these departments properly is a clear Dereliction of Duty. Whitaker, Bell and supporting voters of this nonsense should be removed from Office.
    Citizens will die because of the negligent management and budgeting of this Administration

    • Not completely the fault of the county administrators. There’s a reason Fairfield County EMS is chronically short staffed. Mr. Tanner has had a number of years to deal with the root of the problem yet has failed to do so. It’s not pay nor is it about new trucks. That I can promise you.

  3. Enough is enough says

    Well lets look at just this years budget. 3 million on a Rec. Center next to a dump that know one will use. Over 1.5 M on a statue. Thats only 2 items and would have put 4.5 million back in the budget to cover the raise. Imagine what else this county is spending on that makes 0 sense. At this rate of loss when someone calls 911 no one will be here to respond. Yet the council gets raises.

  4. Lori Kurtz says

    No surprise here. The richest county in the state. The administration and leaders of this county have been corrupt and lining their own pockets for years. I hate to think if a large scale tragedy was to occur, lives could be lost due to lack of this county’s willingness to properly fund it’s Emergency workers.

  5. I always enjoy watching the spin mr. tanner and the other unknowing folks put out there in regards to the chronically short staffing problems at Fairfield County EMS. This is not a new issue there. It has plagued them for many many years. It’s not a pay problem as Fairfield EMS pays well more than counties with comparable population and call volumes. This is easily found and substantiated. mr. tanner has had the opportunity to deal with the cancer that maintains their low morale, short staffing issues and empty stations. There’s a reason people don’t stay and there’s a reason Fairfield EMS can’t recruit new employees. The word is out to stay away. Being short 19 EMTs/paramedics is indeed a critical emergency as that number represents more than one ENTIRE shift for fairfield county ems.

    As someone that has family within the county it saddens me that stations are shut down continuously and to add the folks that are working are potentially working from 48 to at some times 96 hours at a time which is extremely dangerous. With any luck the next leader of Fairfield County EMS will have the backbone to cut the cancer away so the service can progress into what they should be with a full staff and operational stations with strong morale and folks that look out for each other. Those of you that are still there, DO NOT settle for your career. There are so many better opportunities out there. Just reach out to the many many folks that have moved on and are thriving. They will bring you to the light.

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