Calls go back up for the Scio Township Fire Department

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In the past year, the Scio Township Fire Department saw an increase in emergency calls and the reasons behind this are both obvious and new.

Scio Fire Chief Andrew Houde said calls were up 42 percent from 2020, “in part due to the rebound from the COVID slowdown and in part due to changes in calls we are dispatched to which were updated in June.”

“As COVID hit the US, we saw a decrease in call volume like many other agencies,” Houde said in an email to The Sun Times News (STN). “Many suspect that was because people did less and stayed home more. There is also some speculation that people were afraid to go to the hospital, so they didn’t call 911.”

He said, “In Scio, we saw calls go from 1,029 in 2019 to 931 in 2021. Again, we are guessing why, but there seems to be the general consensus that the above reasons were why call volumes were down in many places. After people began going out and getting somewhat back to normal, we saw call volumes increase.”

The other part of this, Houde said, saw the dispatch center undergoing some call-taking upgrades. From this, one of the things that happened was that the number of call types greatly expanded.

“We went from about 1,500 available incident type codes to about 5,200 codes,” said Houde.

Scio Township Fire Chief Andrew Houde. photo courtesy of the Scio Township Fire Department

The Scio department evaluated the expanded codes (mainly on the EMS-Emergency Medical Service-side) and determined their response to each one.

“This caused us to now respond on calls that we previously would not have responded on, but that we determined should not be handled by an ambulance alone,” Houde said. “Our average monthly call volume was 88/month before the changes and 130/month after the changes.”

Houde gave one example of a change that they made was a result of a call that they were called to in 2020.

“A senior citizen in the community has fallen in his garage and has serious injuries,” he said. “He struck his head and was bleeding on the cold floor. The ambulance arrived and needed help, so we were sent. To avoid situations like that in the future, we have decided to respond on all fall calls.”

In considering the past year, STN asked Houde how was the firefighting team doing.

“Overall our firefighters are doing good,” he answered.

As with many things, there are some challenges, but progress is being made.

They have had a few personnel changes as some of their paid on call firefighters have taken full-time jobs in the area and overall they are finding it hard to attract and maintain the paid on call staff, Houde said.

Scio added Assistant Fire Chief Doug Armstrong to the full-time ranks in a fire prevention role this past and he is in the process of implementing the fire inspection program and has already fielded a several complaints and corrected many code violation issues. Houde said they have also brought on board an administrative assistant, who is busy getting their files structured and digitized, as well as working with Armstrong on the administrative side of the prevention program.

Taking a closer look at the team, Houde said he and Armstrong are working regular business hours while the response staff is comprised of three shifts, each with a Captain, a Lieutenant, and a Firefighter. He said they supplement those positions with their four paid on call firefighters. Their primary fire investigator is part-time (as needed), and both Armstrong and the fire chief assist him investigating fires in the community.

Another change over the past year has been at the fire station on Zeeb Road. It was renovated and updated to become more of a modern facility, and in turn these changes enabled the department to do something it couldn’t before.

“The renovations have allowed us to staff with a fourth firefighter, which is critical to meeting state and national standards on fire scenes, and adds a level of redundancy into the system,” said Houde. “When staffed with four, we do not need to wait for a neighboring department to enter a burning building and allows that ability to handle more than one call at a time, which happens more frequently as we get busier.”

He said his goal this year is to get a fourth firefighter on duty every day rather than every fourth day or so.

“A fourth firefighter would not have been possible with the station in its previous stare, as there was not enough room to house four,” Houde said. “Additionally, we now have adequate facilities for both male and female firefighters, something we lacked before. The station renovations have been critical to our mission.”

With an increase in calls and knowing that certain areas of the township are in need, there are plans to establish a second station.

Houde said they are now in the process of securing property to build a second station on.

He said, “The response times and call volume data shows that we need a station in the south east portion of the township to adequately serve the people that live there. I’m hoping that this year we can make some progress on planning for that needed expansion.”

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