Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island leaders want Charleston County to beef up its EMS presence during summer beach season.
“We need your help,” says a letter from Sullivan’s Mayor Pat O’Neil and IOP Mayor Dick Cronin to County Council Chairman Elliott Summey.
Their request cites the growing number of beach visitors and the traffic congestion they bring as reasons to assign an ambulance and quick-response vehicle to each island.
O’Neil and Cronin expressed concern about the effect of heavy beach traffic on EMS response time from the mainland.
Summey said on Tuesday that he had just received the letter. The county needs time to study the proposal before deciding in the next week or two if it is cost-effective, he said. The goal with EMS, as with all county departments, is to provide the most effective service for the least amount of money, but the decision will not emphasize dollars and cents over public safety, he said.
County experts will review data, including the number of calls received from the islands, type of injury involved and whether transport to a hospital was necessary. The islands have emergency medical technicians who can provide needed treatment in many situations, officials said.
Currently, IOP and Sullivan’s share a county EMS ambulance and quick-response vehicle stationed on the islands Fridays through Sundays during peak tourist time from Memorial Day to Labor Day, officials said.
“While population growth in Charleston County has trended upward during the past years, so has the number of visitors to area beaches. To that end, the need for emergency services for those visitors has likewise increased,” the letter says.
Typical ambulance response times from off-island to Sullivan’s or IOP meet an accepted standard of about nine minutes in 80 percent of the cases, said EMS Director Don Lundy.
The islands have EMT first responders, but they can not administer controlled drugs or transport a patient to a hospital as the county can, the letter says.
The mayors cited Memorial Day weekend as an example of why more EMS help is needed. IOP first responders required county assistance for 13 calls, including and accidental shooting, while Sullivans’ needed EMS assistance for 20 calls.
“We don’t get one-a-day typically,” Cronin said.
IOP Administrator Linda Tucker said EMS ambulances transport patients to hospitals and are staffed by at least one paramedic and emergency medical technician. County quick-response vehicles have advanced life support equipment and a paramedic who may administer drugs such as cardiac and pain relief medications. That advantage is critical if an ambulance is tied-up or delayed, she said.
“If an ambulance is taking a patient off either island, it is then unable to respond to a second call on the islands. Or an ambulance may be called to provide backup to a situation off the islands,” Tucker said.
“How much delay would result to emergency transport from the islands is debatable,” she said, “but it can be extensive if call volumes are high or if traffic is a challenge.”
Elsewhere, the county assigns a quick-response vehicle to Folly Beach and Kiawah Island. For both islands, ambulance service is stationed nearby for timely service, Lundy said.
Folly Public Safety Director Andrew Gilreath said the county works well with the city to meet its emergency needs during beach season.
“They’ve been really responsive,” he said.