Horry County medic working overtime ‘dozed off’ before crash

An Horry County Fire Rescue ambulance driver working overtime fell asleep at the wheel resulting in a minor crash last week, HCFR Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Tanner said.

“Driver said he dozed off while he was driving,” Tanner said in a meeting Wednesday when questioned about the crash by Horry County Councilman Paul Prince.

The ambulance driver struck a concrete wall about 6:40 a.m. May 2 while driving on U.S. 17 Bypass near Sutter Drive about a mile outside of Surfside Beach, according to Cpl. Sonny Collins with the South Carolina Highway Patrol.

The ambulance, which was carrying two medics and a patient, suffered minor damage, and no one was hurt when the driver failed to maintain the proper travel lane, Collins said.

The driver was said to be going the posted speed limit and was not charged following the crash, Collins said.

“The employee was working an overtime shift when the accident occurred. … Following the incident the HCFR Training Division will provide the appropriate level of training to the employee depending on the type and severity of the incident,” Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman, said in an email Thursday.

Prince asked Tanner about the crash and expressed concern at the county’s public safety meeting Wednesday.

Prince suggested medics reorganize a list of workers used for scheduling to ensure medics aren’t overworked in the future.

Prince said he wasn’t sure if the driver involved in the crash was asked to work extra time or if he simply wanted to pick up the extra work. Tanner could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Prince said he believed the fire department had the resources they needed, but said it can be difficult to find enough people for the job.

“We need more volunteers. Volunteers would solve it all. If we could get more trained volunteers and give them a real good benefit package to be a volunteer – that would help a lot,” Prince said.

There’s a shortage of EMS workers in South Carolina and nationwide, according to Jeff Carroll, president of the S.C. EMS Association.

A healing economy with more job options and a lengthy two-year training program is partly to blame for the shortage, Carroll said.

“There’s people interested, and they’re in training, but there are so many jobs that have become available in the past year or two that everybody actually has open positions,” Carroll said. “I guess we’re trying to find ways to entice people to come into the field, but it grew so fast that we just weren’t able to keep up,” he said.

It’s also not uncommon for EMS workers to want to pick up extra hours if they’ve had an easy shift the day before and have rested, but longer shifts can lead to fatigue, and agencies often put policies in place to limit the number of hours worked, Carroll said.

Staff writer Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend