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A record-breaking number of Emergency Medical Service calls highlight the Fire Department’s annual report, part of the second busiest overall year in department history. A total of 5,578 ambulance calls came in 2011, and when added to the 3,485 fire and other calls pushed total calls over 9,000 (9,063) for only the second time in history. In 2008 there were 9,134 – the most ever. By way of comparison, in 1986 call volume was under 6,000.
Despite the high volume of calls, more than 15 ambulance calls and almost 25 total calls per day, the department kept response time under three minutes average for emergency calls. Response time for ambulance calls average two minutes, 55 seconds.
Average response time for fire calls was 2:52. There were 85 fires that resulted in property damage. The total value of the properties at which those fires occurred was more than $57 million, but reported loss to fire at those properties was about $3.3 million. “We get there in time to mitigate damage, said Fire Chief Greg Klaiber. The department’s quick response time helped save 94.3 percent of property value, he said. If not for one complete loss at 1560 Oak Ave., a $1.6 million loss, the department would have helped saved 97percent of property value.
“It has been a very good year,” said Chief Klaiber. “I am proud of how we do business.” He said that the Department’s awards ceremony added to his sense of pride, as family after family appeared to thank the Department for saving a family member’s life. Response time remains a critical component of how the department evaluates itself, he said.
“It is a justification for the level of service we provide,” he said. “The budget reflects the level of service we want to deliver to the City.” The Department’s budget is about $13.3 million, with about $1.5 million in expected revenue for a net of about $11.8 million. (In comparison, the Police Department’s budget is over $24 million net.) The budget remains essentially flat. “We have been asked to do more with the same resources,” said Chief Klaiber, adding that the Department kept the same number of fire-suppression personnel but lost administrative assistance.
Some residents have suggested that using contract employees could save the City money, but Chief Klaiber said that is “not any route I would want to go.” Contract employees stay with a department only long enough to catch on full time with another department, he said. For “continuity of operations, consistency, and company integrity,” the Chief said he wants “people who want to be here and serve this community” and not firefighters who view the job as a stepping stone on the way to someplace else.
In 2011, Chief Klaiber began several initiatives that he hopes will lead to benefits in the coming year. A wellness and fitness program has been, in his mind, a big success, although it has not translated into measurable success yet. The goal, said the Chief, was a 20 percent reduction in workers’ compensation time lost. “It’s a healthier department than when I started on the job,” he said. “There has been some resistance in some circles, but almost everyone is on board.” Despite improved overall health, a measurable reduction in claims did not occur in 2011. “We had no claims in January, though,” added the Chief.
A recruitment program aimed at attracting minorities and Evanston residents did not produce as many minority and local applicants as Chief Klaiber hoped. “I want a diverse department that reflects our community,” he said. The initiative will continue, with outreach to ETHS, local churches, and other venues to get the word out that fire suppression is a rewarding career option for Evanston youth. Getting the message out takes time.
Chief Klaiber pointed to a number of changes coming in 2012, highlighted by the generation of a five-year strategic plan for the Department. The strategic plan will examine how the Department deploys resources, including apparatus spread across Evanston’s 5 stations. “How we respond and how we operate will be part of that,” he said. “We’re going to take a fresh look at everything.” It may be, he added, that nothing will change because the current deployment works. But if so, it will be based upon a comprehensive examination of current practice.
New technology will be coming to ambulances and fire engines as life pack monitors will be replaced on all rigs. “This is part of the regular replacement cycle,” said Chief Klaiber. Unless the City gets a grant, the replacements will be staggered, because it is simply too expensive to replace all at once.
The Department will be looking into getting new thermal imaging cameras and new toughbook laptop computers for EMS rigs. Chief Klaiber said the Department will also replace the alarm bell, which currently is loud and piercing enough to cause hearing damage. He expects a new alarm bell system to be in place by the end of 2012 or early 2013.
The current year will see a continuation of wellness and minority recruitment efforts as well. The Chief says he hopes 2012 will be as rewarding and successful as 2011.