Only on 12: Multiple fire chiefs speak out on Aiken Co. EMS problems

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, July 9, 2013

WAGENER, S.C. (WRDW) -- In the hangar bay of the Wagener Fire Department, four men are standing up by sitting down for interviews.

"The group of us here today, and the fact that we're talking to you, something's got to change," said Wagener Fire Chief Mark Redd.

Chief Redd was joined by Captain Richard Sullivan, along with Chief Donnie Cook and Captain Greg Bailey from the Couchton Fire Rescue.

"They deserve to have service on this side of the county just like they do in downtown Aiken or downtown North Augusta, and they're not getting that," Redd said.

Redd, along with numerous other firefighters News 12 has talked to, says Aiken County EMS is the problem.

Just last Thursday, dozens of firefighters, officers and troopers responded to a home on Garvin Drive. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office says a father, Patrick Ryan Eagerton, accidentally struck his 2-year-old son as the father was pulling into the driveway. The boy was pronounced dead at 4:18 p.m. at Richland Memorial Hospital.

Redd says a delayed response by EMS may have cost the toddler his life. He says precious time was lost by EMS in getting a helicopter to the scene.

On Tuesday, Redd reviewed the Computer-aided Dispatch (CAD) report with News 12. The report shows that Capt. Sullivan called for a helicopter almost immediately upon arriving on the scene. Minutes later, Sullivan requested the helicopter again stating that there was heavy trauma. A couple minutes later, Sullivan was advised that EMS had to be on scene before a helicopter could be launched.

Once the helicopter was launched, first responders began staging the landing zone at A.L. Corbett Middle School at 3:10 p.m. Six minutes later, the helicopter was just 15 minutes out. At 3:28 p.m., for reasons yet unknown by News 12 and Redd, EMS told the helicopter, which was only about three to five minutes from the middle school, to reroute to the Pelion Airport in Lexington County. While the helicopter got to Pelion seven minutes later (3:35 p.m.), it took the ambulance carrying the 2-year-old 20 minutes to get there. The CAD report says the ambulance was on scene at Pelion Airport at 3:48 p.m.

"We know that they were delayed because of a snafu in the dispatch process, so it's one of those Murphy Law situations," Redd said. "If it can go wrong, it will, and in this case, it did."

But Redd and others say this story is one of weeks, months, and even years. It's a problem that happens too often, these men say.

"Does it happen every day? No. Does it happen on a regular basis? Depending on what you consider regular. Does it happen too often? Yes," Redd said.

Like Wagener, News 12 is told the Couchton Fire Rescue has also had repeat problems with EMS. The chief, assistant chief and captain there say the main problem is delays in getting helicopters to the scene. Sometimes, they say EMS leaders won't allow choppers to fly at all, and multiple people have died as a result, they say.

"What is the problem in Aiken County?" asked News 12 reporter Chad Mills.

"I think it's egos and mistrust and jealousy," said Capt. Greg Bailey.

What these men want is more respect from the leaders at EMS and the ability to call helicopters when they know one is needed. There is reportedly a dispute about what the state will allow, but Redd and Cook say that the ranking fireman on scene is ultimately the incident commander.

If things don't change, these men fear that more lives will be lost.

"In my opinion, due to delayed response, I have seen people expire," Redd said.

When it comes to a policy fix, Redd and the others say they've yet to hear from County Administrator Clay Killian, EMS Coordinator Harvey Jay or Emergency Services Director Tommy Thompson.

The firefighters News 12 sat down with say that more than just a policy change is going to be needed to actually make a difference, and they say they're tired of talk. They want EMS and county leaders to walk the walk this time.

EMS Director Thompson says they're still investigating the Wagener case, and he says they're doing so very astutely.

As for the apparent anger from certain first responders in the county, Thompson wouldn't directly comment, but he says he doesn't believe there's much of a problem.

News 12 asked Thompson if there will soon be an effort to meet with county firefighters or a possibility of changing the policy. Thompson says he wasn't sure what kind of a policy change is needed because he says county firefighters have not approached him with specifics.

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