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National EMS Week worthy of public attention

POSTED May 23, 2012 8:37 a.m.
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May 20-26 is National EMS Week. Ceres Fire Department responded to 2,496 medical aid calls last year, which accounts for 62 percent of their total call volume in 2011. All 31 full-time and five intern firefighters at Ceres Fire Department are fully-trained and certified Emergency Medical Technicians; some are even paramedics.

In terms of media coverage and publicity, fire departments and those in the emergency medical service field generally lead a quiet existence. Much of their work goes unrecognized, unless there is a spectacular fire, loss of life, or the firefighters receive special acknowledgment for heroic lifesaving. Even when there are serious traffic collisions with major injuries, pin-ins and other complications, attention is paid not so much to the great work that our highly-trained firefighters do, but to the collision itself, the resulting traffic jams and victim injuries. Firefighters are the first to refuse what they deem to be "undue" recognition, because what most people view as acts of heroism are considered "just doing their jobs" to the firefighters. They come to work each day ready to risk their lives in the service of others.

We have seen an interesting pattern in the fire service during the past four years. In 2008, the Ceres Fire Department reached a historical high number of calls for service at 4,959. That number declined to 4,027 in 2011, representing an 18.79 percent decrease. This decrease is partly due to prevention efforts and public education. Fire personnel have significantly increased their business inspection activities and engaged in public education efforts to teach our citizens how to better protect themselves and their property from such threats as fires, medical issues, hazardous materials and other things we face in everyday life. Some of the decrease is also attributable to changes that have been made to the kinds of medical calls the fire department responds to. The change came about as a result of studies that indicated that certain "low level" medical calls did not warrant a fire department response, since ambulance crews could handle those situations without the additional fire resources. This policy change was made to ensure engine companies (two or three-person crews) are available to respond to true emergencies. It also has decreased the amount of wear and tear on fire apparatuses, saves fuel, and reduces the number of "code three" responses through our city.

Since 2008, the amount of fire-related property "saves" as a result of effective firefighting was approximately $4 million, and the amount lost to fires was about $3 million. Four years later, in 2011, property saved from fire was valued at almost $9 million, and the amount lost was just under $1.5 million. During these last four years, there was one fire fatality in Ceres and seven civilian injuries as the result of fires.

In terms of fire department response times, Ceres is fortunate to have four fire stations strategically placed throughout the community; in effect, the city is roughly divided into four quadrants, with one fire station serving each quadrant. In terms of weekly calls for service trends, Fridays between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. are the peak time for our fire department. This makes sense since people are hurrying to get home from work and start their weekend. Traffic is usually congested at that time and motorists tend to be tired and stressed. This leads to more traffic collisions and other events requiring fire department assistance.

Of the 4,027 total calls for service in 2011, approximately 2,900 calls received a response time of four minutes or less. Some calls allow for a slower response time depending on the circumstances, but suffice it to say that these would have been for non-emergency events. Call response times are affected by the amount of traffic congestion, the time of day and the availability of engine companies.

Some people suggest that fire personnel "have a lot of time on their hands." The fact is that they must stay in a constant state of readiness, which requires them to continuously train to maintain their skills, which are more technical and complex than ever. Their vehicles, tools and equipment must be 100 percent ready to use at all times, which requires daily maintenance and testing to ensure that when these items are needed, they can be counted on to function properly. Firefighters must also be physically fit in order to meet the physical demands of fighting fires and some of the other labor-intensive functions that they perform. In this profession, an unfit firefighter stands a good chance of becoming a dead firefighter, as they must deal with intense heat (frequently in the 1,400-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit range) and carry very heavy equipment like fully-charged fire hoses, which can weigh hundreds of pounds.

Firefighters are truly special people who have made a career out of protecting people and property, and rescuing people from the most dangerous and often terrifying situations. The fire service is the only public agency that has to do it all; from fighting fires, extracting victims from various entrapments, providing in-field medical assistance, stabilizing and clearing up the most hazardous chemical spills, rescuing people from water, high places, tunnels, and performing the kinds of specialized services that no one else can. I admire their work, and to say the least, I am proud to be affiliated with them.
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