BELOIT - Beloit Fire Department firefighters and medical staff are working harder than ever, with call volumes increasing annually from 2015 to 2017.
The increases are in line with the national trend of more responses for fire and medical staff across the country, and Beloit's totals represent changes in how society views the role of first responders, Beloit Fire Chief Brad Liggett said.
"There's a public expectation that we fulfill a broader role in solving problems in everyday life," Liggett said.
The chief said Beloit and departments across the country had seen a rise in patients using the emergency room as a primary care physician, something that stresses department, city and taxpayer resources. Liggett also pointed to the aging population, but stressed there were multiple factors for increased call logs, most notably the accessibility to adequate, preventative health care.
According to city data in 2017, the department responded to 5,858 combined fire and medical calls for service, up from 5,471 responses in 2016 and 5,036 in 2015.
The department responded to 98 fires prompting investigations in 2017, compared to 90 in 2016, with fire damage totals increasing from $281,670 claimed in 2016 to $665,635 in 2017.
In terms of overdoses, the department responded to 194 drug overdose dispatches in 2017, up from 110 in 2016. Paramedics and EMTs administered opioid suppressants 113 times in 2017 compared to 60 in 2016, city data showed.
With the department set to welcome eight new firefighters, an assistant chief and making four internal promotions, Liggett estimated the department's 2019 overtime budget would not eclipse totals spent on overtime pay from past years.
The department spent $402,784 on overtime in 2017, having originally budgeted $260,000 at the start of the fiscal year. Following multiple retirements in December, the department has had to increase overtime totals to maintain state-required shift numbers.
Looking ahead at the rest of 2018, the department will tackle multiple administrative and equipment goals.
• New fire engine: The department has established a committee to design and build its plans for a new fire engine ahead of purchase in 2019. The department purchased two in 2016, with the upcoming engine to replace an aging 1997 vehicle. The new engine will replace Engine Two at Fire Station Two, with $460,000 available for the purchase in the department's capital improvement budget.
• Path to accreditation: The department will look to become a registered agency, giving the department more access to policy and evaluation tools. Becoming a registered agency allows a three year path to accreditation.
• Cancer Prevention Project: The department plans to spend $106,000 on new firefighter turnout gear over the next three years. All firefighters are given two pairs of firefighting gear, but Liggett said secondary pairs for fire staff had exceeded their 10-year lifespan. To further protect fire staff, the department has added cleaning and decontamination supplies to all vehicles so that first responders can clean off at incident scenes.
• Youth outreach: The department will continue its Fire Explorers Program, and will host summer fire academies with Hendricks CareerTek and Town of Beloit Fire Department. Two dates are expected to be held this year compared to 2017, Liggett said.