Former chief speaks out as county terminates contract with EMS squad
LAKE WACCAMAW, N.C. (WECT) - In ninety days, Lake Waccamaw Fire & Rescue Auxiliary will likely stop responding to emergencies.
The decision comes from a 6-to-1 vote at Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, condemning the EMS team for one member’s actions.
“It was something dealing with Mr. Shannon Worrell who was a member of the squad,” explained Commissioner Giles ‘Buddy’ Byrd. “Some negative remarks and remarks that I totally do not support.”
On July 24, former EMS chief Shannon Worrell allegedly made racist and homophobic comments at a Mexican restaurant.
“Mr. Worrell and his fellow rescue squad members’ actions that were witnessed by customers in the restaurant and recorded on a 40+ minute video were inexcusable, irresponsible and in conflict with the county’s anti-discrimination policies,” Staff Attorney Amanda Prince stated in a recent release.
“I definitely am not a racist,” said Worrell, who resigned from his position with the organization on Monday at about 4 p.m. “I have multiple friends and family of different walks of life, choices, sexual preferences...”
Worrell was caught on camera telling a same-sex couple “I guarantee y’all didn’t make no child.” He says his comment was misunderstood.
“I was trying to identify who is the mother,” said Worrell. “Two women cannot be the mother. That is not sexism. It’s not homophobic. That’s science.”
As for the racist comments, he says he’ll take responsibility “whether it be true or not.”
“Tempers were flaring on both sides by multiple people,” said Worrell. “I do not recall -- I’m not denying. I’m saying I’m sorry for anything said on my behalf and I have no hard feelings for anything that was said on their behalf.”
When asked if he was remorseful for the comments, he said ‘of course.’
“Not because of homophobic, not because of racism, but because of humanity,” said Worrell. “I feel like we’re supposed to all get along regardless of background, sexual preference, ethnic backgrounds, whatever.”
Worrell stepped down Monday afternoon in an attempt to prevent backlash against the EMS team. Although he is not in a leadership role, he still plans to serve with the Auxiliary.
“I feel like my training and the mentorship I’ve been given by great people puts me in a position where I can offer my standard of care for the State of North Carolina,” said Worrell. “If given the opportunity, I would like to continue that in a non-administrative role. If it is the county’s desire, I will freely resign that position.”
Since Worrell’s resignation, Heather Sasser has taken over as the department’s acting chief.
“Since the individuals involved are not employees of the county, the county is limited in how to address the matter at hand with the individuals involved,” the staff attorney said. “Nevertheless, Columbus County holds its employees and contractors to a professional standard and will not tolerate or condone discrimination of any kind.”
The county’s contract with the organization is set to end 90 days from Tuesday, which is October 31.
“Columbus County Emergency Services has coordinated with other emergency medical service providers to ensure no lapse of service occurs in the Lake Waccamaw area,” said a press release from the county attorney. “As future long-term plans for emergency medical services develop, details will be released.”
Commissioner Byrd says he’s unconvinced. He was the only one to vote against terminating the contract, citing concerns over serving his community.
“Now, understand they ran about 760-something calls last year,” said Byrd. “It would be very hard to maintain the response time that those guys have kept in place throughout the time.”
While he does not support the alleged comments made by Worrell, he doesn’t think it’s fair to punish Lake Waccamaw Fire & Rescue Auxiliary as a whole.
“He needs to be reprimanded for whatever the actions was [but] I do not feel like we should just destroy the whole department,” said Byrd.
As for what happens next, Byrd says it is possible that commissioners come to an agreement or compromise with the Auxiliary, thus saving its fate. However, he could not speculate as to if that is likely to happen.
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