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Safety: Midway wants to put more rescue swimmers in the water

Midway Fire and Rescue assistant chief Jim Crawford says rescue swimmers are the fastest way to save people from drowning in the ocean and asked for county funding last week to equip firefighters for the job.

Crawford told members of the Georgetown County Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee that Midway wants all firefighters to be capable of water rescues. He said Midway needs $21,600 in equipment to change the department’s lifesaving tactics and get rescuers into the water faster.

“We are the sole source of water rescue at Pawleys Island, Litchfield Beach and DeBordieu,” Crawford told committee members responsible for recommending how the county will spend $254,890 in accommodations tax funds. Crawford said the county budget doesn’t include funds to equip enough personnel for simultaneous water rescue calls

Midway plans to train and equip all 19 firefighters on a typical shift as swimmers. “The trend,” Crawford said, “is toward rescue swimmers on paddle boards attached to reels on the beach.”

The Midway request includes a 12-foot rescue board for the ocean at $900, six 800-foot rope reels, $1,650; eight flotation rescue cans, $472; 12 swift water personal flotation devices, $2,340; six dry suits, $4,980; six helmets, $672; and six headlamps, $450. Lights, training manikins, ropes, carabiners and incidental materials make up the remainder of the inventory.

In his written request, Fire Chief Doug Eggiman said the funding was necessary to equip and deploy a full shift into any environment regardless of weather. The items in the request are “critical to our daily tactical operations but will also greatly enhance our strategic capabilities as we move into the future,” he said.

Carr Gilmore, a batallion chief who runs Midway’s water rescue operations, said an 11-year-old boy trying to save his brother in a rip current drowned this summer at the county-owned beach access at the south end of Pawleys Island. The brother was one of 20 near-drownings Midway has recorded.

Gilmore said the person attempting to rescue a swimmer in trouble typically is the one to drown. Eighty percent of the ocean rescue calls for Midway involve vacationers, he said.

Midway has a personal watercraft for ocean rescues, but Gilmore said limited access to the beach delays response time and high surf prevents its deployment altogether. “At places like the south end of Litchfield,” he said, “it’s faster for swimmers. This equipment allows us to get into the water as fast as possible.”

Gilmore said Midway handled six other emergency medical calls during the time of last summer’s drowning. “We are on our own,” he said. “We must be able to go two or three guys deep.”

Committee member Kathi Grace asked if Midway had applied for accommodations tax funding from the town of Pawleys Island. Crawford said the department had not applied for town funds in at least six years.

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