The Myrtle Beach Fire Department inaugurated 14 new firefighters at a Friday morning graduation ceremony.
“It’s an exciting time for the department,” said MBFD Chief Tom Gwyer. “These are the future leaders or officers who who will determine the next 10-20 years.”
MBFD has a highly selective process for recruiting firefighters. First, prospects must submit an application. Then they must take written and agility tests. Depending on their performance, applicants will complete a panel interview. Finally, offers are extended, contingent upon a medical exam and background check.
“We had 300 applicants this year and about half of them showed up to written tests,” Gwyer said. That went down to the 14 in this class, he added.
Gwyer added that the COVID-19 pandemic made recruitment difficult.
“We had to adhere to COVID protocols during the written tests so there was a lot of extra personnel and research,” he said. “We had candidates that couldn’t come down from the northeast because they had to quarantine. That lowered the number of the written test.”
Still, he said MBFD was able to fill all open slots.
Gwyer has had an eventful tenure as chief, for which he was recently awarded 2021 South Eastern Fire Chief of the Year.
"Honestly, though, this really has nothing to do with me," he said at Tuesday's city council meeting. "It has to do with the men and women standing behind me. The other 171 employees we have in this organization."
"I challenge anybody to find another fire department that provides the amount of service that we do," he continued. "Everyday that these men and women come to work they put it all on the line. They give it 110% every single day."
This year, MBFD achieved wage parity with the city's police department. Certified firefighters and certified police officers both make around $44,000 annually.
In the past, he has overseen many changes in the department.
To reduce carcinogen intake among staff, he successfully applied for a $250,000 federal grant to purchase exhaust capture systems — tubes that hook to exhaust pipes of trucks and transmit them outside of the garage.
City council funded the remainder of the systems to equip all 6 stations.
In 2018, he oversaw the transfer of Ocean Rescue duty from the police department to MBFD.
"We trained some of our people in 2016 to help, but in 2018 city manager asked us to take over because we handle other rescues,” he said, adding that off-duty firefighters are paid overtime to assume the role.
Four Ocean Rescue crews monitor four sections of the beach from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Newly sworn in firefighters will start as early as Monday, according to MBFD Spokesman Cpt. Jonathan Evans. Evans added that they will all be probationary firefighters until January.