By Ruben Lowman
It’s safe to say North Myrtle Beach would be a much different place without one group of volunteer first responders, who have made it their mission for nearly 70 years to provide life-saving medical attention to everyone in the city and its surrounding areas.
For the extensive group of volunteers that make up the North Myrtle Beach Rescue Squad, the essential medical attention they provide is all part of a good day’s work, said the squad’s spokesman Richard Sander. He said he joined because he saw the awe-inspiring work the squad did, and like many he wanted to help in whatever way he could.
“I joined the squad because I was, and am still to this day, in awe of all the amazing EMTs and paramedics who I know work hard all day (and night) for their bread and butter, often having to work mandatory overtime because there just aren’t enough EMTs and paramedics to go around,” Sander explained. “And yet they still find time to show up and ride ambulances and watercraft with this rescue squad – for free, in their spare time.”
The rescue squad is one of the oldest in the state, created in May of 1958 by three local businessmen who donated $200 and bought a used 1950 Packard hearse from a local funeral home, and were incorporated as the Crescent Beach Rescue Squad. Ever since day one, it’s mission has been to provide the city of North Myrtle Beach and its surrounding communities with first responders who could arrive on the scene and provide medical care during emergencies and accidents.
The squad is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and it receives no funding from the city, county, state or federal governments. Most people, when they hear rescue squad, think that their tax dollars pay for what they do, Sander said. He said that is just not the case.
“Think about how much money it must take to purchase, stock and run our ambulances, jet skis and boats, to maintain compliance for pharmaceuticals, always-expiring supplies, and, of course, to fill everything up with gas,” Sander said.
Not only that, but ever since the squad began providing emergency service to the city more than six decades ago, they have never charged residents or insurance companies a dime when they show up in their ambulances or rescue watercraft. The NMB Rescue Squad has expanded alongside the city and the area, with its coverage area now encompassing a wide swath of northern Horry County, pretty much anyone who needs help on the north end.
The organization is lucky to have such incredibly generous donors in the local community who ensure the life-saving work they do can continue, Sander said. Every dollar to purchase, maintain, comply and run the squad comes from such donations from residents and visitors to the squad’s service area. The squad responds to calls in an area that forms a rectangle from the NC/SC state line, running along the beach to Highway 22 and inland to Highway 905, while incorporating North Myrtle Beach, Little River, Longs and bits of Myrtle Beach and Loris.
“Without our neighbors and friends supporting us, we could not survive,” Sander said.
Because of this will to help all those in need, Sander said the rescue squad is always in the process of looking for volunteers, including non-medically-certified people like he is.
“In an all-volunteer organization like ours, there are so many things to do and never enough people or hours to make sure everything is done,” Sander described. “We end up having to prioritize those tasks that either keep the ambulances and watercraft out in the public, or keep us in compliance.”
Sander said the organization needs people like himself that can do things other than provide medical care, alongside the first responders that are so vital to the squad. The things he does, such as writing fundraising letters and maintaining the donor database, are boring but important, he said.
“So many of our volunteers have unique skills or interests and we can use them to make our community better,” Sander said. “Right now I’m working with two volunteers who are putting together our 3rd Annual Ed Vaitis Memorial Golf Tournament on May 1st.”
The tournament is held annually in the honor of the late Ed Vaitis, who was a pillar of the NMB community and the rescue squad for many years. Sander said the husband and wife team helping put it together are experts at organizing golf tournaments, with more than 20 years experience before they moved here.
“They know the answers to questions most of us don’t even know to ask and we are lucky to have their expertise this year!” Sander said.
A big element of a growing city such as North Myrtle Beach is a necessary expansion in first responders and emergency personnel as more residents need help and service calls tick upwards. Sander said the squad is always looking for more medically-trained volunteers, as well, but they are blessed to have a strong group of first responders with a diverse set of skills.
“We are fortunate to have EMTs and paramedics moving here from other areas of the country, looking to put their skills to good use, but not necessarily through full-time employment with Horry County Fire Rescue,” Sander explained. “Our rescue squad is unique in that we respond to 911 calls, unlike many other opportunities they find here.”
In order to expand their rescue operations, the squad is getting a new amphibious water rescue boat that will significantly improve their capabilities to carry out life-saving missions. Sander said the squad’s members were quivering with excitement for its arrival later this month.
“This will be the very first amphibious rescue boat put into service in the United States and there’s no better organization to do it first than the rescue squad that was once voted, ‘Best Rescue Squad in the United States.’ Our rescue squad has always been on the forefront of doing more and better,” Sander said.
The new amphibious boat adds to the squad’s already impressive personnel and gives them one more tool in their arsenal to help save more lives.
“Our water rescue team is probably the most well-trained group on the East Coast, so much so that other local organizations ask to train with us,” Sander said. “We have lakes, rivers, the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean where our 18 million visitors all want to jump right in and enjoy themselves. When something goes wrong, they expect help and we will be there. The new amphibious feature will allow us to drive right into any body of water, more quickly than before, getting help to where it is needed right away.”
The rescue squad also provides first responder and emergency medical care during events in the city throughout the year. Just a few weeks ago, they were both in the NMB St. Patrick’s Day Parade and also under the First Aid tent at the event providing care to anyone who needed.
“We try to be available for all of the important events happening in North Myrtle Beach,” Sander said.
“You’ll see us at the Touch-A-Truck event this weekend and at the Monday after the Masters event. We will be fully staffed for both bike weeks. Our annual golf tournament fundraiser will take place on May 1st and, of course, our annual Fish Fry and Barbecue (always the last Saturday in October) has been a local favorite for more than 40 years,” Sander said.
Alongside responding to calls that help to save lives during emergencies, the rescue squad also holds classes for local residents to try and prevent them before they occur. They are one of the few organizations that regularly teach CPR and “Stop-The-Bleed” classes, and Sander said that will even teach “somewhat unique” classes, like babysitting, if requested.
True to their name, the volunteers that make up the NMB Rescue Squad are a group of local life-savers and heroes.
“I can’t say enough wonderful things about every one of our volunteer,” Sander said. “Please, if you see them around North Myrtle Beach, thank them for their incredible service!”