Fire Department sees spike in calls during 2013, report says

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published February 12, 2014

 Engine 5 sits at a training burn at Oakland Community College’s Combined Regional Emergency Services Training Center.

Engine 5 sits at a training burn at Oakland Community College’s Combined Regional Emergency Services Training Center.

Photo courtesy of the West Bloomfield Fire Department

WEST BLOOMFIELD — In the Fire Department’s 2013 Annual Report, data shows that the department responded to 7,602 service calls, which is a 6.36 percent spike over 2012.

“We’re typically about 2-3 percent,” said Jay Wiseman, West Bloomfield fire chief, referring to a typical annual increase. “We had terrible weather toward the end of the year that played a big part of it. We had a lot of slips and falls, and weather-related issues. Those types of things caused a spike at the end of the year.”

Of the 7,602 calls in 2013, 35.5 percent were related to fire, general assistance or other hazardous conditions, while 64.5 percent were attributed to EMS, rescue, motor vehicle accidents and other care-related services in the township and tri-cities.

The first service people call in an emergency is the Fire Department, Wiseman said, explaining people call for the “unknown” incidents.

“We tell our residents, if you’re unsure, call us. We want to make sure they’re safe and their property’s safe. … That’s good support for people in the township and the tri-cities.”

Of the tri-cities, Keego Harbor had the highest incident count, with a total of 301 calls. Orchard Lake had 231 calls, and Sylvan Lake had 159. West Bloomfield totaled 6,873 calls, which increased from 6,498 in 2012.

“I want people to know … we certainly are getting our money’s worth of the three communities involved,” Keego Harbor Council member Sid Rubin said at a Jan. 16 meeting. “What’s really alarming is that the EMS calls, excluding vehicle accidents with injury, is probably twice as much as the second in our city.”

Keego Harbor had a total of 181 EMS calls, excluding vehicle accident with injury, while Orchard Lake had 86 and Sylvan Lake had 76.

“There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that our community is getting more than their fair share of billings,” Rubin said.

“We have quick service, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s providing good safety measures for our community,” he said

In the late 1990s to early 2000s, when the department was growing from originally four fire stations, two stations were added immediately and the department added personnel, closing in on close to 103 personnel.

When the economy turned, Wiseman said, the Fire Department was tasked with the responsibility of reducing costs, which included eliminating personnel and redistributing the workload among officers.

“Over time, we’ve had almost a 21 percent increase in response duties from emergency, nonemergency, EMS and fire,” Wiseman said.

Reaching a point where the workforce is diluted, the Fire Department is re-evaluating the workload, flow, distribution of work and the use of all its assets, Wiseman explained.  

Some changes that have already taken place include continuous training for officers, which is required through the state of Michigan, refurbishing the fleet of fire apparatuses and relocating one EMS unit.

The fleet change and refurbishing should allow the department to continue for the next four to five years to deliver services with good equipment, Wiseman said.

“The wonderful gift of this weather, for the number of months that we’ve had it, has really taken a toll on vehicles and equipment. If you examine our budget right now, we’re running ahead because things are getting wiped out,” Wiseman said.

The Fire Department has gone through thousands of dollars in suspension repairs due to the Green Lake Road stretch wiping out the fleets for Fire Station 3.

A bulk of response demands for EMS units come from the middle of the township and into the south. The Fire Department relocated the least-utilized EMS unit from Fire Station 4 to assist during peak calls in 2013. Since the relocation, Wiseman said the unit is now the third-busiest vehicle.

Wiseman said that the township and tri-cities have a large nursing-home community due to the world-class hospital. While locating nursing homes around the hospital is great for the residents, it puts a significant burden on the Fire Department’s infrastructure and increases the number of calls, he said.

On average, the Fire Department responds to one to two calls per day at nursing homes. Because staff members are not allowed to lift patients when they fall, the Fire Department responds to assist and conduct a medical exam, Wiseman said. Wiseman anticipates that when Magnolia by the Lakes opens in Keego Harbor, the number of calls will reflect what they have been seeing from existing senior centers and nursing homes.

What’s unique about the Fire Department is that they also respond to issues like frozen pipes.

“Everybody’s definition of an emergency is different, and that’s what we do,” Wiseman said.

There are preventive measures, Wiseman said, that residents can take to help minimize the need of the Fire Department. The first is to know where the water valve is to shut off the water in case a pipe bursts. Residents should also know how to shut off the electricity, he said. In addition, residents should have their furnaces and air conditioning units serviced prior to use.

People think they smell something burning when it’s really a furnace that hasn’t been repaired or the belt is slipping, Wiseman said.

“An ounce of prevention is great,” Wiseman said.