Horry County must fix disparity in pay of firefighter-paramedics, other public safety workers

By The Myrtle Beach Sun News Editorial Board

Horry County Fire Rescue responded to a fire in the attic of a house on Eagle Creek drive in the Burgess Community on April 6.
Horry County Fire Rescue responded to a fire in the attic of a house on Eagle Creek drive in the Burgess Community on April 6. jlee@thesunnews.com

Money cannot fix every problem, but it certainly can close a glaring gap in the salaries of Horry County firefighters. The pay in Horry County Fire Rescue is one obvious reason the county service is losing experienced firefighters to departments such as the City of Myrtle Beach.

The minimum starting salary of $38,640 for city firefighters is $4,184 more than the Horry County minimum. The disparity grows to more than $16,000 a year at the top level of pay for experienced firefighter-paramedics. For the latter, the basic pay is $10,000 less in the county department. Paramedics have more training than Emergency Medical Technicians. Ambulances must have paramedics.

Pay is hardly the only issue. Horry County Fire Rescue has 25 vacant positions, including eight paramedics. Another 22 firefighters are in training and not yet working in firehouses. The department changed its overtime rules, so firefighters are working more mandatory overtime. Without overtime, county firefighters work 24-hour shifts (at their firehouses, on call) and are off 48 hours.

Some of the county’s first responders are working 48-hour shifts. Depending on the number of calls made, that can mean paramedics who have not slept. This is more than speculation. Travis Glatki, president of the Myrtle Beach Professional Firefighter’s Association, emailed members of the Horry County Council: “We [Myrtle Beach firefighters] have witnessed EMT’s and paramedics on ambulance units work grueling schedules, often-times going 48 hours with little to no sleep.”

Members of the Horry County Council should pay close attention to Glatki’s information, which describes a potential public safety disaster. Glatki’s counterpart in the county service is Rob Mullaney, president of the Horry County chapter of the International Association of Firefighters. Mullaney was quoted in The Sun News reporting about county firefighters going to other departments and their complaints about overtime and low pay: “A lot of the problems are staffing. Our turnover rate is ridiculous and you’re losing a lot of mid-level and senior guys … starting over at [other] departments because the benefits are better, the pay is better, the longevity with the pay is better.”

For another perspective, look at the number of applicants for firefighter recruits. Horry County had 47 applications for training; the city of Myrtle Beach had about 500 — clearly showing that vastly more prospective firefighters want to work for Myrtle Beach than for Horry County.

Elected officials, including those on municipal and county councils, have a natural reluctance to increase wages of any class of employees, and the well-paid administrators and managers serve at the pleasure of the elected councils. Several members of the Horry County Council are in the last year of their terms, and may not wish to explain any additional costs (pay raises) to their constituents, the taxpayers.

Increasing the pay of Horry County firefighters and law enforcement officers should not be delayed, in the same way Myrtle Beach improved salaries of city police officers. More people, residents and visitors, absolutely requires more public safety people and the city and the county must be competitive.