Beaufort News

St. Helena still logging county's longest emergency response times

The Beaufort County EMS Station 5 ambulance sits parked outside of the home being rented as the temporary Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District Station 22 on Oct. 30, 2015, on St. Helena Island off of Sea Island Parkway.  Station 22's renovations were scheduled for completion Dec. 1.
The Beaufort County EMS Station 5 ambulance sits parked outside of the home being rented as the temporary Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District Station 22 on Oct. 30, 2015, on St. Helena Island off of Sea Island Parkway. Station 22's renovations were scheduled for completion Dec. 1. dearley@islandpacket.com

St. Helena Island has long logged the longest EMS response times in Beaufort County. Ambulances take about 11 to 12 minutes per call to arrive on the scene of a medical emergency, compared with a county average of about 8 minutes, according to county emergency medical services data.

Those few extra minutes can matter. A time lapse of more than 11 minutes for advanced life support to arrive on a medical scene can increase patients' mortality rates by six percent, according to research from The Center for Prehospital Medicine at the Carolinas Medical Center.

Building a second station on St. Helena Island should be the county's top EMS construction priority, according to a 2011 EMS review that Beaufort County commissioned. Only one EMS post with a single ambulance at the northernmost corner of St. Helena serves all of the island's 64 square miles and its population of about 10,000. A second station is needed father south to imrpove service, according to the review.

But four years have passed and county officials say they decided to make building new stations in Bluffton and Burton -- fast growing areas with more residnets -- their top construction priority instead.

The single ambulance in St. Helena received 1,296 calls for service last year compared with the three Bluffton ambulances that received an average of 1,921 calls each and the Burton ambulance that had 2,337 calls last year.

For now, even St. Helena's one station is not is not in use. Fire and EMS first responders are stationed in a nearby house while the island's fire station is being refurbished, Beaufort County public safety director Phil Foot said.

"St. Helena is a rural area," deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said. "So it can just take some services more time to reach that part of the county. It's more sparsely populated ... We feel that the coverage we have in St. Helena is more than satisfactory for now."

Building a station in St. Helena would cost the county between $500,000 and $730,000 plus the cost of an additional ambulance and six medics to staff it, the 2011 county report found. "I'm not surprised we have the longest times when you consider the configuration of the island and the number of ambulances we have stationed over here," said St. Helena resident Roosevelt McCullough, who volunteers on the Lady's Island St. Helena Fire Commission. "But I haven't heard of anybody complaining of the response times. I think the station is close to the pockets where most people live."

McCullough said people that live in areas like the Land's End community may be the population farthest away from first responders.

"We could use another station out there," he said. "But it's not where the most people are."

Follow reporter Erin Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Erinh.

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