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Edisto water rescues hit low mark

The number of boat rescues happening at Edisto Beach are lower than usual for this time of year, but the coastal town’s fire and police departments are still training for the current busy summer season.

Edisto Fire Chief Denney Conley says the beach’s tourist and summer season has been “pretty mellow” as far as rescues go. But, Conley also says that the town’s fire department and police department are still ready for what the rest of the summer may bring.

“We do a lot of training in the off-season (winter months) to prepare for what tourism season brings to us,” he said.

During the summer months, Edisto Beach goes from having 640 regular residents who live at the beach to having an additional 10,000 tourists each week, according to Conley.

These additional people are in the water and on boats, normally without much training.

Last week, the Edisto Beach Police and Fire Departments rescued two tourists and their dog after their boat was stranded. According to Conley, an out-of-town fisherman and his girlfriend became stranded in an inlet creek when the boat ran aground in shallow waters. The girlfriend was injured: she received a gash to her leg, he said. Firefighters and water rescue personnel took the girlfriend back to land, where she was treated for her injuries.

The man, however, opted to stay with the boat until higher tides came in, said Conley. This type of rescue is common this time of year, he said.

In addition to actual boat rescues and patrolling, Conley says the crews use an ATV to do routine beach patrols. On these patrols, the firemen look for glass bottles, illegal drinking, or other problems. “They are our ears and eyes for the beach and the coast,” he said.

The Edisto Beach Fire Department oversees water rescues, in partnership with the town’s police agency. To help with all water rescues, the Town of Edisto owns a 21-foot Zodiak boat, which is mostly used for rescues in creeks and tidal pools. The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office has a larger boat that is used for ocean and deep-water rescues, said Conley.

The Edisto Beach departments work with Colleton County Fire-Rescue, Colleton’s largest and countywide fire protection and rescue agency. The two Edisto service departments also work with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, they have mutual-aid response agreements in place with nearby St. Paul’s Fire Department and with the Charleston County Fire Department. These mutual aid agreements are to help cover the areas of Edisto Island, which are under Charleston County jurisdiction.

In addition to using the boat for rescues, the EBFD also currently has a beach wheelchair program, which allows physically-disabled people to access the beach in larger-wheeled chairs. The department is also operating a youth prevention program, where children are taught safety and fire prevention, he said.

“It’s a lot, and we are proud to be a part of all of it,” he said.

The Edisto Beach Fire Department consists of six full-time firefighters, three part-time firefighters and an additional 32 volunteers. They function as an independent department from Colleton County Fire-Rescue, and are under the jurisdiction of Edisto Beach town officials, according to Conley.

Heather Walters (1410 Posts)