Residents upset over EMS services

County Councilwoman Shirley Greene answers questions during a Mitford/Lake Wateree community meeting.

MITFORD – During a  Mitford/Lake Wateree community meeting held last Thursday evening at the Mitford community center, residents expressed concern to Fairfield county leaders about whether the EMS station in their area is closed and how  their community’s health and safety has been negatively and dramatically impacted by the lack of adequate EMS service.

“My husband laid in the roadway for more than half an hour after a motorcycle accident before the EMS arrived,” Lake Wateree resident Jane McElhaney testified. “Almost everything on his right side was broken. Thank goodness that an off-duty EMT lives in the neighborhood and did what he could until the ambulance arrived.”

One woman said her family waited 40 excruciating minutes for an ambulance to come from the other side of the county to take her mother to the hospital. Another woman said the ambulance was so late arriving that her husband died before they got to the hospital. 

The meeting was organized by Lake Wateree residents Sherry and Carlos Alexander to bring the communities lack of public safety services to the attention of their District 3 and District 4 county representatives.

Councilwoman for District 4, Shirley Greene, attended. Councilman for District 3, Mikel Trapp, did not attend. Peggy Swearingen, Trapp’s opponent in the Nov. 8 election, did attend and asked questions.

Also on hand to answer questions were County Fire Chief Jason Pope, Sheriff’s Deputy Terrie Smith and EMS Director Daniel Sloan.

Greene, at times, struggled to answer the resident’s questions about inadequate EMS staffing in their community. The residents also questioned the inadequate pay and lack of staffing for fire and sheriff’s employees.

Carlos Alexander opened the meeting with several county budget statistics related to the county’s public safety departments.

“The county has a $41 million budget, with $5 million budgeted for the Sheriff’s Office, $5 million for EMS and $1 million for the county’s fire service,” Alexander said.

EMS: Closed or Not Staffed

When EMS Director Daniel Sloan explained that the EMS station at Lake Wateree is not closed, but just not staffed, Alexander responded.

“So it is not closed, just not staffed. How do we get to the hospital when there’s an emergency?

“There’s a misconception that we have crews at all six of our EMS stations,” Sloan said. “Our crews constantly shuffle throughout the county. We are having staffing problems,” he said, noting that there are some days when there are only two crews rotating through the county and other days when there are only three crews.

“Going into the budget year, we had five open slots. Three of those were frozen [by council] where they were not funded by the budget,” Sloan said. “From then until now, we’ve become short 19 staff members.”

While the audience gasped, Sloan defended the county, saying the shortage was precipitated by hospitals that began hiring paramedics at $30-$40 per hour.

“The county couldn’t compete with that,” he said. “The county pays $15 – $20 per hour plus overtime.

An audience member ask why the council had not been in favor of increasing funding for first responders. Greene replied that council was in favor of such funding.

However it was not until two weeks ago – five months after the budget was passed and after losing many high performing employees – that council voted to take almost a million dollars from the general fund to increase wages and staff for first responders and the detention center.

Fire Service

With only a $1 million budget, Fire Chief Jason Pope explained that the fire service is a mainly volunteer service with only 8 fulltime paid firefighters and 7 part-time paid firefighters for the entire county.

“We have 120 volunteer firefighters on the books, but only 60 of those are active,” Pope told the residents. “We’re in desperate need of more active volunteers.”

Pope explained that because about 50 percent of the active volunteers work outside the county during the day, the paid firefighters must staff the stations in the daytime.

With the EMS, fire service and Sheriff’s department all understaffed, a member of the audience asked why county council voted to allocate $400,000 from the $99 million settlement to the proposed Ridgeway recreation center instead of using it for the animal shelter or the county’s public safety departments, two areas where it could have saved lives.

“I appreciate your passion for what we would all like to have.” Greene said. “But you understand what designation means. In Dominion’s settlement they designated the money for certain things. The county did not make the designation. Dominion did.”

She also explained that the contract governing the designated funds could not be broken.

“There is no breaking of the contract,” Greene said.

When asked by a Voice reporter if the $400,000 was designated for the Ridgeway recreation center, Greene answered, “Yes.” However, when it was pointed out by the reporter that the $400,000 was actually designated for the mass grading of the commerce center (industrial park), not the recreation center, and that it was switched only two months ago, Greene conceded that was correct.

Asked by an audience member how the council could make that switch of the $400,000, Greene answered, “The funds were switched to complete the [recreation center] project.”

After the almost two hour meeting ended, Alexander said he didn’t feel like the group got a lot of straight answers from the county.

“I would liked to have heard our council representative take some responsibility,” Alexander said. I didn’t hear that. I don’t have any confidence that there will be any changes.

“I guess we’ll see,” he said.

Almost 100 residents attended. | Barbara Ball

Comments

  1. Ernest E. Yarborough, J.D. says

    Wow! My beloved county is in serious trouble.

  2. jeff schaffer says

    another perfect opportunity to explain the lack of transparency in this community. as well as the lack of services we receive. No matter what we say it goes in one ear and out the other.

    we need to remove all 5 rubber stamp council members and start off fresh.
    Definitely get rid of TRAPP AND BELL.

  3. Brian Drawdy says

    Alexander is 100% right. “No confidence”. They have nothing but excuses why it’s everyone else’s fault the service is critically and chronically short staffed. It’s a morale and treatment issue. Not a money or work schedule thing. You treat employees the right way, they will show up to work. Bottom line.

  4. Mike Bell says

    Greene is only worry about the teacher village for the school district. Not life and safety issues for the tax payers! Greene, Bell, Trapp, Roseborough and the money taker (Robinson) must go!

    This county is doomed!

  5. Tina Loges says

    Please vote we can rid the county of 2 Moses Bell and Mikel Trapp.

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