September 30, 2014

GUEST COLUMN: The fire department’s methods

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By Kenneth N. Morton Jr.

Recent letters to the editor in the Williston Observer have questioned the fire department’s logic for sending fire engines to reports of fires, versus a car. This column responds to those concerns.

The number one cause of fires in the United States is from cooking/kitchen fires. The number one cause of fire deaths in the United States is from cooking/kitchen fires. As such, it would be irresponsible of the fire department not to send a fire truck when dispatched to a fire alarm. Time and time again, nationally and locally, we find cases where a fire department has responded to an address regularly only to discover there is not a fire, then eventually sees a fire condition on arrival. Since we are unable to determine at the time of dispatch whether there is a smoke problem, cooking problem or an actual fire, we do not have the luxury to choose to send a car to investigate. We also choose not to delay our response by up to six minutes by having an owner utilize an antiquated system where a remote location receives a fire alarm, then pages a resident, and allows that resident five minutes to investigate if there is an actual fire, before dispatching the Fire Department. These precious minutes can be a matter of life or death, or a save versus a total loss of a property.

Williston funds two firefighter EMTs only. These individuals are supplemented by call firefighters and EMTs; however, there are times when only the two individuals employed are in the fire station. If we were to send them out to do investigations or issue permits in a car or pickup truck, only to have an EMS or fire call occur while they are performing that duty, we would lose valuable time driving back to the fire station to switch vehicles and then respond with the correct vehicle. Therefore, we respond to investigation or permit calls with a fire car when feasible, but a fire truck or ambulance when we have little choice due to staffing.

I often have folks ask why we send a fire truck to medical calls with the ambulance. Our ambulance operates with a two-person crew. More often than not, shoveling snow, moving furniture, or lift assistance is needed, and having those additional personnel from the fire engine assists in making the medical call faster, smoother and, most importantly, aids in delivering the patient to the hospital more quickly, and saves personal injury to our EMS staff. The Williston Fire Department responds to about 2,000 incidents per year (both fire and EMS). There are multiple times when we have more than one call at a time—needing to respond directly from one incident to another. This is yet another reason why we send the fire engine to EMS calls.

Over the past five years, the net Williston Fire Department budget has seen a net decrease while we have added three full-time firefighter/EMT personnel, and added a transport ambulance to protect the community. The budget decrease is largely due to the revenue generated by the ambulance service.

For residents with questions regarding our operations, please come to the fire station and meet Williston’s dedicated call and career firefighters and EMTs. I am confident that once you find out how we operate on a daily basis, you will be impressed! Thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight.

Kenneth N. Morton Jr. is the chief of the Williston Fire Department.

 
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