LUGOFF, SC (WIS) - The Lugoff Fire Department is getting the green light to respond to crash calls.
Chief Dennis Ray says that decision was announced this afternoon. It means the fire department can respond to calls involving fires and accidents, but the department is still not able to respond to other first responder calls that deal with medical issues.
Ray says they'll have to wait until next year to have that provision of the department's charter changed, which is when the General Assembly will reconvene.
"We've got quite a bit of rescue tools we've accumulated over the years," said Lugoff Fire Chief Dennis Ray.
When Ray took over in June, he never knew the medical calls his firemen were working were illegal. They weren't breaking the law, but the fire department's charter only allows the firemen to put out fires. "We had been responding to specifically medical first responder emergencies," said Ray.
Lugoff firefighters, like in other modern departments, are first responders. If any emergency call comes in, they answer. "To have them packaged, have them stabilized, ready to go for the ambulance, so as soon as the ambulance is on scene we can load them right up," described Ray.
In some cases, firefighters get to scenes minutes before medics. If a victim is trapped inside a crashed car, the firemen are trained to cut them out. "We have rescue tools in order to go in," said Ray. "They call the jaws of life, a lot of people call."
That ended Thursday morning, when the department's attorney read over the department's charter. The Lugoff Fire Department was founded in 1968 as a special-purpose tax district inside Kershaw County.
Its charter allows "fire suppression" as the only job the department could do. In order to respond to medical emergencies again, it'll take the legislature to change the charter to read "rescue."
"I feel like as a fire chief, my hands are tied to where I have trained firefighters here, ready to perform rescue operations," said Ray. "Whether it be medical first responders, whether it be vehicle extractions, opening doors of locked vehicles with children inside, I can go on and on and on -- things we've done for years that we're now not going to be able to provide."
Chief Ray says his department will respond to medical calls if a police officer or medic requests it. The department's board of commissioners are working with the Kershaw County legislative delegation to get the language changed, but it might have to wait until lawmakers come back in January.
For now, Kershaw County EMS will handle all rescue calls.