Special Report: Calls for help increase in fastest-growing part of SC

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – More people plus more new construction equals more calls for help in Horry County.

Horry County is the fastest-growing county in South Carolina. First responders and 911 dispatchers work hard to keep up with the growth to ensure your safety.

In the Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire Rescue district first responders answer calls for help in Horry and Georgetown Counties. “We have two dispatches to follow and two radios to listen to at all times and we have to communicate with each other’s dispatch and if I get a call in Horry County I have to let Georgetown County know that I”m not available for the next call because I’m on an Horry County call, ” said Paramedic Ricky Marshall with Murrells Inlet Garden City Fire Rescue.

If keeping track of locations in two areas isn’t challenging enough think about this. Some 1,200 people move to Horry County a month many into newly built homes. This means adding new streets and addresses almost daily to the county’s database so first responders can find you when emergencies happen. “There’s new subdivisions popping up every day. Putting new houses. New roads are being created. We’ll try and go out early, go drive through the area,” Marshall said.

But before Fire Rescue responds, 911 dispatchers in Conway answer the call for help. “Horry County is very busy. We’re getting a call per minute every hour of the day in this department, ” said Director of Horry County 911 Renee Hardwick.

Hardwick said Horry County’s extreme landscape combined with the tourist element makes it even harder. “In the urban area, you’re near a bunch of things. But there are roads in this county that don’t have a house for five or six miles sometimes. Plus, on July the third, we go to bed and we got like 350,000 people in the county. We wake up July the fourth and we’ve got 600,000 people in the area because there’s a holiday happening.”

Hardwick said cellphones also present new challenges. Wireless towers pick up your signal through longitude and latitude, but Hardwick said it’s not your exact location. “But keep in mind that the FCC rules allow for that location to be up for three football fields away from where you actually are is a pretty broad area.”

Back at the station, firefighters do their part. And just like at dispatch, similar or same name streets cause confusion. “Things like Yaupon Street and Yaupon Avenue. And one’s in one county and one’s in the other. But they’re similar enough that you could go “Oh, are you sure?,” said Marshall.

Which is why dispatchers ask lots of questions. “We’re going to always ask you. ‘Where you are?’, whether we have your address or that information. We’re still going to confirm where you are. People put things in computers and mistakes get made and we want to make sure we get to where you are. Answering our questions does not delay any response to you because we can start an ambulance, or a fire truck, or police officer on the way to you, but we’re still going to gather information because they need information. We don’t need an ambulance to arrive at your house not give them the information on what’s happening and then they can’t take the proper equipment in and go back to the truck because time saves lives. My recommendation is, on a simple notecard, write down directions to your home, and put it on your refrigerator, ” Hardwick said. She said having written directions to your home also helps guests in your home especially in a tourist community.

Lt. Billy Francher, a firefighter with Murrells Inlet Garden City Rescue, also offers advice when you’re on the phone with the 911 operator. “Calm down. Speak clearly and slowly to the operator on 911 so we can get all the facts.”

First responders also encourage you to advocate for yourself. They suggest calling your county’s Geographical Information System or (GIS) Department to make sure your address is in their system. For GPS systems like Google and Waze, you’ll need to communicate with those companies directly. It’s not up to county agencies to send address information to these companies.

Hardwick said Horry County continues to look for ways to improve emergency response. Recently, Horry County Council approved the county’s participation in the “Coastal Area Cooperative” agreement. It involves the Directors of E 911 Centers in Horry, Beaufort, Berkley, Charleston, and Georgetown counties working together to enhance regional public safety and among other things, the transition to Next Generation 911 service. “Coastal Area Cooperative” members would also assist each other with disaster recovery and rely on other jurisdictions to answer emergency calls or other responsibilities temporarily, all to help protect the fastest-growing area of South Carolina.

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