Feb. 12—Horry County firefighters are leaving and moving to other departments like Myrtle Beach with complaints of too much overtime and low pay, according to Rob Mullaney, president of the Horry County chapter of the International Association of Firefighters.
"A lot of the problems are staffing," he said. "Our turnover rate is ridiculous and you're losing a lot of mid-level and senior guys to departments, starting over at departments because the benefits are better, the pay is better, the longevity with the pay is better."
In January, the county fire department changed its mandatory overtime rules, breaking down the overtime lists by personnel type instead of relying on one list with all different types of personnel to fill each vacancy that comes up.
The new rules, combined with all the vacancies in the department, have led to more mandatory overtime, Mullaney said.
Horry County Fire Rescue has 252 budgeted firefighter positions, including 57 firefighter-paramedics, according to county public information officer Kelly Moore. Without overtime, those firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off.
The department currently has 25 vacancies, said Moore. That includes eight paramedic vacancies, said fire department spokesperson Mark Nugent. That number is separate from the 22 firefighters currently in training who aren't in fire stations yet, including two paramedics, Nugent said.
The shortfall means the department is staffed with 86 percent of its total paramedic positions. Paramedics have more training than EMTs and ambulances can't operate without them.
"The mandatory overtime is affecting everyone," Mullaney said. "It's the paramedics that are more drastically affected because there are more EMTs than paramedics. It has a ripple effect."
A work schedule for February provided by Mullany shows 13 vacant paramedics, but Nugent said that five of those are still on the payroll and don't count as vacancies.
"They could be doing paramedic training, they could be on extended leave and we don't traditionally report that as a vacancy," Nugent said.
A shortage of 13 paramedics would mean more first responders are working 48-hour shifts instead of the normal 24 hours.
"You have someone coming in there who hasn't slept," Mullaney said. "Do you want that person treating your mother who's had a heart attack?"
Still, Nugent said the department is always recruiting, and more hires mean less mandatory overtime. He said the department is excited to graduate its 22-person training class in April or May, and will start recruiting again after this class begins work.
"We're excited about getting them out," Nugent said. "We're always looking for good paramedics."
Myrtle Beach Professional Firefighter's Association President Travis Glatki said in an email to Horry County councilors that Myrtle Beach firefighters work side by side with Horry County firefighters and have seen how the overtime is affecting them.
"We have witnessed EMT's and paramedics on ambulance units work grueling schedules, often times going 48 hours with little to no sleep," he said. "There have been false reports stating that mandatory overtime is not an issue. However, [Myrtle Beach Professional Firefighter's Association] members have witnessed firsthand that these reports are 100 percent untrue."
Overtime aside, Mullaney said there's another reason why Horry County firefighters are leaving and going to departments like Myrtle Beach: the pay.
Horry County firefighters earn $34,456 to $51,686 for both firefighter EMTS and firefighter paramedics, said Moore.
"Starting pay depends on qualifications and experience," Moore said.
In Myrtle Beach, the minimum salary starts at $38,640 for just firefighters, according to a pay schedule. Firefighter paramedics in Myrtle Beach make at least $43,922 and can earn up to $68,319.
Numbers show that more people want to work for Myrtle Beach than Horry County.
Horry County Fire received 47 applications for its recruiting class of 22 firefighters, said Moore.
For Myrtle Beach's recruiting class of 21 firefighters, the city received around 500 applications, said Myrtle Beach Fire Department spokesperson Lt. Jonathan Evans.
Nugent wouldn't comment on pay, but Mullaney did.
"Longevity wise, the pay will be better," he said "They get raises fairly regularly."
Evans said that the past two years, Myrtle Beach firefighters have received between a 1-percent and 5-percent raise, depending on how they did on their evaluation.
The raise process is similar in Horry County, with firefighters receiving a pay raise of between 1 and 5 percent depending on their evaluations, said Moore.