Local fire departments are trying to respond to fires, accidents and medical emergencies as quickly as possible as they get more calls than ever before.
Fire departments have worked to lower response times in recent years, including adding a third fire station in Franklin in 2010 and a new ambulance service in White River Township last year.
But residents could wait longer for help if the number of calls for help continues to increase, unless local departments buy more equipment or hire additional firefighters, officials said.
Last year, fire departments across the county responded to more calls than they had the year before.
Some had significant increases. In White River Township, the fire department responded to 2,548 calls last year, about a 14 percent increase over 2011. Bargersville handled 23 percent more calls in 2012, after a slight decline in 2011.
The Franklin Fire Department responded to 2,605 calls for fires, medical assistance, car accidents and other incidents — a 7 percent increase over 2011, public information officer Chuck Ridpath said.
The number of calls was the most some departments, including Franklin and White River Township, had seen in one year.
“That tells me it’s something we’re going to have to keep a closer eye on. I don’t want the level of service to this community to be reduced. As our runs grow, we need to look at ways to provide more service,” White River Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said.
Within the next five years, Pell expects to need to hire more firefighters. Until then, the White River Township Fire Department will have to rely on nearby fire departments to help when they don’t have enough people working to respond to all the calls, Pell said.
For instance, if the White River Township Fire Department is called to a house fire, the department sends all firefighters, trucks and its two ambulances to the scene to follow national standards, Pell said. If another resident needs an ambulance at the same time, the department has to ask another fire department to handle the call, he said.
The fire department doesn’t usually get called to multiple runs at once, but with an average of about seven calls per day, that is possible, he said.
“The pressure is not to increase your budget, but it’s not realistic when you look at a growing community and a growing need,” Pell said.
“With a tough economy, our run loads go up. And as our run loads go up, we’re going to have to add firefighters eventually to keep pace with the growth of the community and the growth of the need.”
In recent years, fire departments have gotten more calls for emergency medical help, such as when someone calls for an ambulance, and Pell said the slipping economy is partly to blame.
Last year, emergency medical runs made up most of fire departments’ calls. Medical runs made up more than 1,900 of the calls at the White River Township Fire Department, a 14 percent increase from 2011, and about 785 calls at the Bargersville Fire Department, a nearly 20 percent increase over 2011.
When people are out of work or are not making as much money as they used to, they put off getting medical treatment until it becomes an emergency and they have to call for help, Pell said.
Franklin Fire Chief John Henderson said the increase in calls for help has caused the department to switch to more online training instead of having all firefighters train at once. That way, firefighters can work the training into their schedules instead of being assigned a time to do it, Henderson said.
The Franklin Fire Department also is looking at what equipment firefighters are taking on calls, especially for vehicle accidents, as a response to the increase. Last year, the department was called to more traffic accidents and sometimes did not have necessary equipment when responding, Henderson said.
By changing what equipment crews bring, he said, the department will be able to help residents faster by being prepared with all the equipment they could need.
“The guys are working harder, but they’re doing different things besides fighting fires,” Henderson said.
NUMBER OF RUNS
Franklin Fire Department
White River Township Fire Department
Franklin 2012 runs
- 103 for fires
- 2,082 for emergency medical services
- 137 for motor vehicle accidents
- 77 for hazardous conditions, including gas leaks or power lines down
- 61 for service calls
- 145 for false alarms
White River Township 2012 runs
- 117 for fires
- 1,915 for emergency medical services
- 75 for hazardous conditions, including gas leaks or power lines down
- 44 for service calls
- 153 for false alarms
- 244 for other calls
Bargersville 2012 runs
- 69 for fires
- 785 for emergency medical services
- 295 for other