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South Boston fire, EMS stretched to the limit

The South Boston Fire Department and EMS responded to a total of 2,015 calls in 2011, 1,734 by the town EMS, and the volume of EMS calls is stretching his department to the limit, Fire Chief Steve Phillips told South Boston Town Council Monday evening. “The EMS calls continue to be a major part of what we do, but this past year we had an increase of 153 calls, which is a lot,” said Phillips, who had no ready explanation for the increase in calls.

“I can’t come up with a ready answer,” Phillips said in response to a question posed by Councilman Coleman Speece.

“I haven’t talked to anyone outside the county, but it’s just a lot for us, and a lot of them have come from inside town as well.

“You can’t put it on the age of our population, and over 2,000 calls is unheard of for us…that’s a lot of running up and down the road.”

Over the past two years, (EMS) our calls have increased by almost 400, Phillips explained, from 1,338 in 2009 to 1,581 in 2010 to 1,734 in 2011.

“I can tell you I hope this increase doesn’t keep coming, because if it does we’re going to have to look at a different way of doing business,” he added.

It’s not overwhelming right now, but if it continues to increase by that much, it’s going to be difficult for us to keep the calls covered.”

His department responded to 53 fire calls in 2011, including 22 for structure fires, six for vehicle fires and 25 for other types of fires, Phillips reported.

“Our number of fire related calls had a slight decrease of four calls in 2011 for a total of 281, and overall we saw a total increase of 149 total calls,” he added.

The fire department gave mutual aid to other departments 23 times in 2011, and it received aid from 19.

Out of a total of 3,121.74 man hours in 2011, no fire-related or non-fire related injuries of deaths were reported among civilian or fire service personnel.

His department responded to 1,473 EMS calls within town limits and 261 outside town limits, with 1,650 requiring medical assistance, 69 motor vehicle collisions with injuries and 15 motor vehicle collisions with no injuries.

The month of September was the busiest for EMS personnel with 166 calls, followed by April with 164, and a total of 85 false call incidents being reported, which are recorded whenever there is a fire alarm or sprinkler issue that is not associated with an emergency incident.

Also included in that number are responses that indicate there was a failure to call dispatch during a test or fire drill, a manual pull of the alarm system without reason or an unfounded event.

A total of 118 calls were reported during 2011 for other incidents, including responses to service calls, good intent calls, searches or any miscellaneous events not specifically categorized in the National Incident Reporting System.

Currently, the department has 15 members who are trained to respond to emergency medical calls, 11 at the EMT-B certification level, two at the EMT-Intermediate level and one each at the EMS-Enhanced and EMT-Paramedic levels.

Overall, the department has nine paid staff and 25 volunteers, but the available number of volunteers has been dwindling or static the past several years, according to Phillips.

Over 300 hours of training are required for volunteers, and that can be a burden for his department, he added.

One answer may be the addition of an EMD at the Emergency Dispatch Center, one with the level of expertise and certification necessary to legally diagnose an emergency medical situation over the phone and prescribe treatment, Phillips told council.

Someone with those qualifications could help in the reduction of responses to EMS calls, but a grant his department applied for to fund that position was turned down last year, the fire chief added.

Lt. Daniel Clark was responsible for one successful program last year, Phillips noted, finding funding to cover the purchase of five pet oxygen masks currently in use.

Fire safety education continues to be a priority, according to Phillips, with visits to schools, daycare facilities and other youth groups during the year.



Fire official’s report

Deputy Chief Dwight Spangler, also the fire official for the South Boston Fire & EMS Department, conducted 57 inspections in 2011, with 149 violations cited.

Follow-up inspections are made to ensure that all violations are corrected in a timely manner.

At the time his report was filed, 139 of the cited violations had been corrected, and only one inspection from 2011 is still in the follow-up phase, according to Spangler.

Spangler told council Monday he is taking a proactive approach to inspections, but he added with only one fire official (himself) performing inspections, he has to focus on mandatory inspections such as schools.

“I try and inspect areas required by code and other areas with high numbers of people,” said Spangler.

Spangler said he tries to let businesses know he’s coming to give them an opportunity to take care of any violations, which may include improper signage and lack of access to emergency exits.

“I try to keep everybody thinking,” said Spangler.