COLUMBUS COUNTY -- If you have a medical emergency in Columbus County, it could be a while before an ambulance responds to your 911 call -- if it gets there at all. Columbus County officials have documented dozens of cases where rescue squads from all over the county never responded to emergency calls. Pages and pages of 911 medical emergency calls in Columbus County -- some dating back to 2006 -- that local rescue squads never responded to. According to documents Lake Waccamaw and Buckhead Fire and Rescue are the two top offenders. In one case from December someone at premier living facility needed an ambulance. Lake Waccamaw Fire and Rescue was dispatched but never showed -- even though its facility is less than a mile away. Several other county rescue squads were also asked to respond. Still, no one did. Finally, a private transport company was called, but by then more than 40 minutes had passed and regrettably so had the patient. Columbus County officials don't want to be held responsible for any more cases like the one from December. To try and ensure rescue squads respond to calls they are dispatched to the EMS steering committee has recommended penalizing each department with a $500 fine for an unanswered call. Paying the fine may be a problem though. Many of the rescue squads rely on volunteers and can't even afford to have many full-time employees, which the county says is the reason for the high number of non-responses to emergency calls. The nine rescue squads contracted by the county make at least $25 dollars for each 911 call they respond to. If the squad dispatched doesn't respond after three requests a rescue squad from a different town is dispatched. NewsChannel 3 stopped by several of the offending departments today, but no one would speak about the situation. We also tried contacting the medical director for Columbus County on other possible solutions to the problem. Those calls have not been returned.
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