Some Aiken Co. firefighters 'cautiously optimistic' about helicopter change

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, July 25, 2013

WAGENER, S.C. (WRDW) -- The policy for life flight helicopters in Aiken County has changed.

"Well, this new policy, in essence, is what we were looking for," said Chief Mark Redd of the Wagener Fire Department.

Only a couple sentences in the new policy spell out a big change. Firefighters in Aiken County, like Redd, will now be able to dispatch helicopters to the scene of an emergency. No questions will be asked by Aiken County Emergency Medical Services leaders.

"If somebody from Wagener Fire Department, for instance, gets on a scene and know that, in their opinion, based on their training, that they need a helicopter to be launched, we're going to get it launched," Redd said.

Last week, Chief Redd spoke out at an Aiken County Council meeting. He pointed to an incident in Wagener where he says a delayed response cost precious time that may have cost a toddler his life. His firefighters weren't able to get a chopper launched. They had to wait precious minutes for EMS to make that call.

"What needed to happen didn't happen," said Redd, who admits he's still not satisfied with the response.

"It's sad that it had to come to light and it took an incident like this to bring it before council," added Aiken County Councilman Phil Napier, who's also the fire chief of the G.V.W. Volunteer Fire Department.

Napier doesn't think the new policy will be abused by firefighters calling for a chopper when one isn't really needed.

"It's very rare that we've ever requested a helicopter, unless there's a bad wreck on the interstate or if there's a burn," he says.

Back in Wagener, Chief Redd hasn't had to call one yet, but when he does, he's still concerned. His main concern is whether or not the county will obey the new helicopter policy.

"We're all weary of what could happen for the simple reason, in the past, things have happened, so I'm hoping for the best, but we'll be prepared for the worst," he said.

Redd says he hopes the communication and relationship between fire departments and EMS will improve too. He says that's essential.

News 12 reached out to County Administrator Clay Killian for comment but didn't hear back.

Click here to read a memo on the medical helicopter transport policy change (PDF).

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