Brunswick County EMS busy trying to keep up with increase in call volume

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 11:35 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The population growth in Brunswick County has boosted the county’s tax revenues, but it has also put a strain on some of its services. Add in tourists coming back to the beach after the pandemic and the calls for help to county EMS crews have increased significantly.

“Some days in the 80s, some days around 90,” said Brunswick County EMS Deputy Director Lyle Johnston — and he’s not talking about the temperatures. He’s talking about the number of calls crews are seeing per day.

Johnston joined Brunswick County EMS four and a half years ago when they averaged about 50 calls a day, he said. In June of this year, Johnston said it’s rare they see a day with fewer than 70 calls.

“This year, hitting 70 and 80 calls a day so far in June has been a regular occurrence for us,” he said. “It’s not any one particular thing, I mean, it’s sick calls, it’s people distressed on the beach, car accidents.”

On Tuesday afternoon, every Brunswick EMS unit was essentially busy and Pender county EMS was even called in to assist just in case. Brunswick County and several of its surrounding counties have mutual aid agreements for when crews are stretched thin.

“We’re back and forth helping each other out, you know, the best we can.” Johnston said. “Pender was coming to help us today. We called New Hanover — New Hanover was actually needing us to come help them and so we couldn’t share with each other at the time.”

While Brunswick County’s population has exploded within the past ten years alone, the influx of new residents show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

“Obviously we’re seeing a lot of growth, you know, you’ve seen all the stuff recently with our planning board approving, you know, new developments and stuff, but they’re not here yet, but we’ve still had growth occurring prior to the growth that we know is coming,” Johnston said. “I think you’re also seeing people travel.”

Johnston said they are always presenting their data to county administration to show Brunswick EMS’ needs for the future.

Help is on the way to alleviate some of the stress that’s currently on the system. County commissioners recently approved another truck, along with four additional paramedics starting July 1.

However, it might be some time before that crew hits the ground running. Not only do eligible candidates need to go through the hiring process, but also go through a month of training once officially on board.

“We can’t just throw somebody to the wolves and throw them out there if they’re going to be there to take care of you, you know, we’ve got to make sure they know what they’re doing when they get out there — so in reality you’re looking at October before that truck is really on the road full time,” Johnston said.

While there is a nationwide paramedic shortage, Johnston says there is plenty of interest in the jobs they have about to open. So far they have 19 candidates.

In the more immediate future: July 4th weekend. Johnston said it’s possible that they see a day with close to 100 calls.

“We’re preparing — like I said — I’ll be on duty for most of the weekend, you know, providing extra coverage,” Johnston said. “I suspect it’s going to be busy, you know, the whole 4th of July weekend. Last I checked, looks like the weather’s going to be good.”

In 2020, Brunswick County EMS saw a call volume of 23,440 compared to 2019 when there was a call volume of 22,692. At the rate they are currently going, Johnston expects that number to be around 24,000 this year.

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