Aiken County deserves credit.

Following the tragic death of 2-year-old Ryan Eagerton last July, Aiken County EMS, swarmed in public scrutiny, made a common-sense change in its protocol regarding emergency airlifts.

Last month, that change helped pave the way for the unlikely rescue of a badly injured Aiken County man.

The change, which gave first responders the ability to call in rescue helicopters, saved valuable time in the rescue of 66-year-old Kenneth Shull, whose throat was sliced open in a industrial accident last month.

Under the old policy, Wagener Fire Chief Mark Redd, a paramedic who assessed Shull before calling in the helicopter, wouldn’t have been granted the chopper without approval from the Aiken County EMS shift manager, who wasn’t on the scene.

Assistant County Administrator Andrew Merriman said the County was following S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control protocol about who can launch a helicopter.

But in a rescue attempt in which public safety officials from Salley and Wagener, an Aiken ambulance crew and a LifeNet helicopter crew had to exhibit textbook cooperation to preserve the life of a man who was circling the drain, there was no time for a middle man. For eliminating him from the process in this instance and in the future, we have Aiken County – and an outpouring of volunteer firemen who worked to have the policy changed – to thank.

Redd said that after five or six years of volunteer firemen struggling to get helicopters launched on request, it took until the accident last summer for anything to change. When Eagerton was accidentally struck by a car at his Wagener home on July 4, volunteer firemen from Wagener were the first on the scene.

Capt. Rich Sullivan, a first responder, requested a helicopter, but was reportedly advised that EMS had to be on scene before it could be launched. A controversial re-routing of the chopper to Pelion Airport in Lexington County further delayed Eagerton’s treatment, and the 2-year-old was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia.

The County soon worked out the regulatory issues, Merriman said, and changed its policy. The change gives Aiken public safety officials a chance to do their jobs, rather than waste precious time waiting for approval from County EMS, or worse – waiting for EMS to arrive, only to make the call themselves after re-assessing the patient.

It also removed a needless restriction that seemed to underestimate the value of the human being - in this case, a Vietnam veteran - whose life probably depends on the chopper’s timely arrival. It’s unlikely Shull knows or cares that the helicopter that airlifted him to the trauma center at Palmetto Health Richland was never approved to launch by a County EMS shift manager. What matters is that it got there just in time to save him, and that no restrictions got in the way.

“The bottom line of what we do is saving lives and property,” said Salley Police and Fire Commissioner Paul Salley, who was among the first on the scene after Shull’s accident. “We’re going to do whatever we have to do to get them treated.”

We thank the heroes who cooperated to save Shull’s life, and offer kudos to those who worked last summer to make sure they were given the chance.