Lake Chief Looks to PWC to Speed Response

After a recent drowning, Lake Waccamaw Fire Chief Brandy Nance decided wants her search crews to be able to focus on rescue, rather than recovery.

To that end, Nance hopes to soon add a jet ski to the fire department’s emergency response inventory.


Search teams from three counties, along with a Highway Patrol helicopter and volunteers, scoured the southern end of the lake looking for the victim.
Lake Waccamaw Fire Chief Brandy Nance hopes to add a personal watercraft to her department’s inventory to improve response time and turn more recovery efforts into rescue missions. Currently the department has to launch boats like this one to execute a search. A permanently moored PWC would allow immediate response by emergency personnel. (file photo)

“We have excellent response when there’s a call on the lake,” Nance said, “but we can improve on that if we have the right equipment.”

Nance said the recent search for Jeb Baldwin, who disappeared on Mother’s Day in a kayaking accident (and the recovery of his body several days later) motivated her to look at ways to get first responders on the lake faster. 

“Right now, someone has to go to the station, hook up the boat, and get to a landing, then launch it and head for the scene,” she explained. “Having a jet ski in the water can save 10 to 12 minutes response time. 

“Minutes can make a big difference in saving someone’s life.”

The personal watercraft (PWC) would be moored a short distance from the fire station, along the town-owned section of the waterfront by Dale’s Seafood, she explained. 

“That way a firefighter or police officer could head straight there and we’d have someone on the scene while the other members are launching the boat,” Nance said.

Nance said she previously worked at Bald Head Island, where jet skis are used for emergency response, dramatically cutting response time for some emergencies. She has looked into the use of PWCs by other departments as well.

“It just makes sense,” she said. “It’s a way to better serve our citizens. If someone is injured or a boat is going down, we could have personnel on the way almost immediately. Saving time is vital to saving lives.”

Jeb Baldwin’s disappearance on Mother’s Day and the subsequent recovery after three days was Nance’s first major emergency as a fire chief, she said. 

“It was my first time on something like that where I had the bigger perspective. I was there from the very beginning to the end, and I saw things I thought we could do better.”

The chief said she wasn’t criticizing the team effort put into finding Baldwin. Rather, she said she hopes response can be sped up enough to make similar emergencies have a better ending.

“Everyone worked real well together – response was great, and everybody was working hard trying to find the victim,” she said. “We were on the lake fast. We had plenty of personnel out there. But in the end, it was a recovery, rather than a rescue. Our departments excel in rescue, but unfortunately, we spend a lot of time on recovery, too.

“I want us to be able to emphasize rescue over recovery.”

The PWC Nance said she hopes to buy will be ready to deploy on delivery, she said. It costs $20,000, which the department is trying to raise through collections and donations.

“I hope we can raise enough by our Independence Day hot dog sale to make it official,” she said. The sale is set for July 2 this year.

Donations can be dropped off at Town Hall or the fire station, Nance said.

The chief said that she has a good department and volunteers, but hopes to make things even safer for the residents and visitors at Lake Waccamaw.

“My goal is for our department to be response ready,” she said. “When people need our help, a lot of them don’t have very long.”

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Jefferson Weaver is the managing editor of and news director for WTXY radio. He can be reached at 910.632.4965, or by email at