Chiefs guide Midway Fire Rescue through its evolution
House on fire? Caught in a rip tide? Having chest pains? Cat stuck in a tree?
Call 911 from the Waccamaw Neck and Midway Fire Rescue will respond.
But it wasn’t always like that.
“When I joined the department we fought fire,” said Fire Chief Doug Eggiman, who started with Midway as a volunteer in 1985 and was hired full-time in 1986.
It’s all part of the evolution of Midway Fire Rescue, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an open house on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Mike Mock oversaw a lot of Midway’s growth. He was hired as fire chief in 1978, and stayed until becoming Georgetown County’s Emergency Services director in 2001.
Mock was only 25 when he was hired.
“I was young, but I was very determined,” Mock said.
When he first moved here from Hilton Head, Mock lived in an apartment above the station and was the dispatcher, drove the fire truck and did anything else that needed to be done.
At the time, Midway used volunteer firefighters. Mock hired the first three full-time firefighters in 1986. The full-timers worked 24-hour shifts, and then were off for 48 hours. That practice continues today.
Mock began training firefighters as EMTs and paramedics, and created a fire and life safety division for prevention and education, and inspection service.
“Our goal was to reduce the hazards of fire, which reduces the amount of dollars taxpayers have to spend,” Mock said.
He also oversaw Midway’s expansion to include stations in DeBordieu and on Beaumont Lane. Having three stations helped reduce the area’s insurance rating from class nine to class four, which saved residents money on their bills.
When the new headquarters opened in Litchfield in 1989, firefighters took refuge there during Hurricane Hugo. Georgetown Hospital sent an emergency room doctor and equipment and a treatment room was set up in case the storm damaged the bridges on Highway 17 and the Waccamaw Neck was cut off.
“We were prepared for the worst,” Eggiman said.
Eggiman moved to the area from Canada to work at the Waccamaw House. He wanted to be a firefighter after watching the TV series “Emergency!,” which centered around Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics.
When he stopped by Midway to pick up an application, he met a dispatcher named Eve, who would later become his wife.
Eggiman was hired and then took firefighting classes. That’s impossible nowadays since there are a lot more regulations and training. Midway averages about 3,000 hours of firefighter training a year.
“We don’t put a piece of equipment on an engine before everybody is trained to use it,” Eggiman said.
He also didn’t have to take a physical when he joined. Physicals and ability tests are now required, and Midway was one of the first departments to require annual physicals on firefighters.
“It’s been a neat evolution,” Eggiman said. “It’s much, much safer.”
Working as closely as they do, Midway firefighters are more like family than co-workers.
“One moment you might be helping each other study for an EMT exam and the next moment your life might be in somebody else’s hands,” Eggiman said.
In its 50 years, the Midway family has never lost one of its own in the line of duty.
“Our mindset has been, and we preach to people, everybody goes home,” Eggiman said.
By Chris Sokoloski
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