Water rescue team essential in community surrounded by water – Coastal Observer


Water rescue team essential in community surrounded by water

Battalion chief Brennan Moore serves as the victim in a training exercise at Garden City.

Two visitors to the Waccamaw Neck’s beaches lost their lives in June trying to help swimmers in distress.

Unfortunately, it’s something firefighters see all the time.

“If you’re not trained to perform the rescue don’t try to do the rescue because there’s a higher probability and a chance you will become an additional victim,” Capt. Brad Bemis of the Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District said. 

He should know. In April, Bemis rescued two people who had jumped off the Pier at Garden City. The second person apparently jumped in trying to help the first.

“It breaks my heart when I see someone who went out to help save someone and they lose their life,” Bemis said. “It doesn’t take long for what would be a rescue situation to turn into an emergency.”

The two visitors who drowned in June were Tre’Sean Snow, 16, of Fayetteville, N.C., who was trying to help a child on a body board struggling in a current at Huntington Beach State Park, and Derrell Lambert, 70, of West Columbia, who was trying to save his grandson from the current off Pawleys Island.

If you’re on the beach and see two sets of really cool waves with calm water between them, that gap is probably a rip current, said Battalion Chief Brennan Moore of Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire.

If you get caught in a rip tide, “stay calm and float out,” Moore added.

The department stations firefighters on the beach to warn people about rip currents, which sometimes last for days.

“The reason we have people on the beach is prevention,” Moore said. “It’s not necessarily for the rescue.”

If you see a swimmer in distress and call 911, Moore said stay on the phone until first responders arrive.

“Even if you have to walk along the beach because that person is traveling [in the current]. Stay on the phone,” he added. “That’s all the information we need. … I can launch every asset in the world, but I’ve got to know where we’re headed.”

Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire a station in Garden City, one block from the Azalea Avenue beach access, which is just south of the pier. The station was damaged during Hurricane Ian last year, but recently became operational again.

To qualify for the Murrells Inlet-Garden City water rescue team, firefighters must be Red Cross certified lifeguards. 

Moore said Fire Chief J.R. Haney sees it as a liability issue. 

Team members also complete Rescue Training International courses, and earn captain’s licenses from the Coast Guard.

Moore teaches water rescue around the state.  

Last week, he taught a Red Cross certified lifeguard course to two volunteers and a captain from the Surfside Beach Fire Department. They spent the morning in the pool at Garden City Chapel and the afternoon in the ocean near the pier.

The three men familiarized themselves with the rescue equipment in the calm waters of the pool before hitting the beach and practicing with Moore.

Jet Ski training begins in the marsh or the Intracoastal Waterway before moving to the ocean. Jet Skis are used for a rescue within 3 miles of the beach. Firefighters in a boat follow the Jet Skis in case the rescuers need to rescued

“Just like two in, two out for a fire,” Moore said. “We don’t send two people in a fire without people outside for them.” 

Moore is working on ways to assist people and first responders during an emergency, such as adding QR codes to beach access signs that people can scan with their cell phone and get tide tables, sunset times, weather updates and emergency contacts. The codes will also tell them exactly where they are on the beach.

“A big problem we have is, on the beach, there’s no addresses on those houses,” Moore said. “No one knows where they are so we’re trying to ping off a cell.” 

The department’s water rescue units will launch for any problem within 10 miles of the shore.

“We have an obligation to protect our beach and the ocean all the way out,” Moore said. 

Between June 1 and Aug. 25, the units responded to 46 calls in the Georgetown County portion of Garden City: 17 for boats in distress, 10 for swimmers in distress, 10 for marine rescues, eight for medical emergencies on the beach, and one for a missing child.

Of those, 27 occurred on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, when the rescue unit is funded by an accommodations tax grant from Georgetown County. The money comes from a 2 percent tax on short-term rentals and must be used for tourism-related activities. 

Last year, the county received about $1.5 million in accommodations tax revenue. It had more than $2 million in requests for the funds from 24 entities, including Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire. 

A committee reviews the requests and make a recommendation to County Council, which has the final say.

Moore requested $199,073 to fund the rescue unit – including salaries and equipment – for seven days a week. The county approved about $150,000.

With only 11 firefighters per shift, when the water rescue unit is dispatched on Monday through Thursday, the department has to take an engine out of service. It doesn’t have enough firefighters to staff both.

“Now what if someone has a heart attack or cardiac arrest,” Moore said.

This year, Moore will be asking the county for enough money to cover water rescue the full seven days again.

“We’ve seen nothing but positive outcome from it,” he said. “The tourists love us. The kids love seeing the Jet Skis. They love talking to the lifeguards.”

The department will also be able to hire more firefighters and paramedics following the passage of a referendum in June that will increase the district’s property tax rate.

Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire is a special purpose district created by the state legislature in 1966 to serve portions of the two counties. It is governed by a six-member board that is appointed by the governor, but doesn’t have the authority to raise taxes without approval from voters.

Moore said the water rescue unit is needed every day.

“We’re surrounded by water,” he said. “We’re literally surrounded by a river. We’re surrounded by a marsh. We’re surrounded by the ocean.”



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to gcsd.k12.sc.us. Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to georgetowncountysc.org. Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to townofpawleysisland.com.   , .