LAKE MURRAY, SC — A boat in which deputies patrol against crime on Lake Murray does double-duty as a source of medical care on spring and summer weekends to make sure accident victims get help faster.
It carries paramedics fully equipped to handle injuries and health problems of all types.
Lakeshore community leaders applaud the arrangement.
“Help is right there, ready at hand if you need it,” said Andy Hyman of Chapin, president of the Lake Murray Association.
The Lexington County aquatic ambulance is vital with the growing popularity of boating, county officials said.
“It was a step that we knew would work, enhancing safety,” county emergency medical services director Brian Hood said.
The move reduced response to calls for medical attention on the lake from an average of 45 to 15 minutes, officials say.
Paramedics at the lake have handled more than 100 calls since the floating ambulance was launched three years ago, mostly dealing with cuts and overexertion.
“It’s a real mix of situations on the water and on the shore,” paramedic Deb Senecal said.
Deputy Troy Livingston, her partner on patrol, says the pair stay busy keeping an eye out for reckless boaters as well as those in need of medical care.
Members of the four teams in that role cross-train to help each other.
“Public safety personnel who regularly train together can handle critical incidents or medical emergencies more efficiently and effectively,” Sheriff James Metts said.
Finding boaters in distress is challenging at times, especially if those on board are unfamiliar with lake landmarks to guide emergency help to their site or aren’t near a dock showing the address of a home.
“It can be very difficult to locate people who can’t tell us where there are,” said Glenda Smith, who oversees the paramedics.
The problem is increasing as more inexperienced boaters flock to the lake, she said.
County officials are trying to develop a computerized map of the 47,500-acre lake, a project designed to hone in on locations through cell phone signals.
The ambulance is on the lake every weekend during prime boating season – May through early September – as well as for events like major fishing tournaments in other months.
Its crew responds to calls for help anywhere on the lake as part of an agreement among the four counties that surround the 650-mile shoreline.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.