Report shows fire department’s ‘forward momentum’

By Travis Gulbrandson

travis.gulbrandson@plaintalk.net

Vermillion Emergency Services has released its Fire/EMS Annual Report for 2013, and Fire Chief Shannon Draper said it shows some positive trends.

“We’ve made a lot of progress across the board in all areas – leaps and bounds, I think,” Draper said. “And we’re going to continue that forward momentum. We are, I think, solidly focused with the community in mind, and whatever we do, we’re keeping the community as the priority. By doing that, we’re progressing.”

The report gives community members a snapshot of departmental activities and breaks them down by type, including things like the number of calls, peak call times and training hours.

Calls come in 24 hours a day, but according to the report, the majority of them tend to come in around 3 p.m. and 11 p.m., with the busiest day of the week being Thursday.

“We’re volunteers here, and if our busiest time is at 3 p.m. … that’s requiring volunteers to leave work,” Draper said. “Being that we do have a good response, that shows there’s a lot of cooperation with the business community by letting their employees go to respond.”

The number of calls was up a bit from last year, with 807 EMS and 160 fire, Draper said.

The majority of EMS calls fell under general medical, with 234, and transfers, with 194, while the majority of fire calls were false alarms, with 32.

“Keeping in mind that we have a volunteer department here, our response time for fire is 5 minutes and 32 seconds,” Draper said. “That’s the time from dispatch getting the call to a truck leaving the fire station … which I think is great.

“The arrival of the first unit on-scene is 5 minutes. That’s taking into account (the fact that) we cover 150 square miles in Clay County, and so, really, on the town calls, we’re there right away. But it’s the ones way out that kind of skew the response,” he said.

Draper said the department focuses its attention on the time it takes to get out of the station.

“We have a goal, a kind of benchmark that I have set, of nothing more than 7 minutes that we get out of the station, so we are staying within that,” he said.

The report also shows the number of hours that went into training, with 559 hours for EMS and 184 for fire.

Fire prevention is covered, as well, in such areas as plan reviews, private and public education sessions, and inspections.

The goal of the fire department is to get into every high-hazard occupancy, as well as the daycares, Draper said.

“I believe that is crucial,” he said. “The general public, when you enter a public space, you feel safe because you expect it to be safe. I look at the inspection program as ensuring that.

“Not that business-owners are doing something intentionally (against code),” he said. “It’s just education. They may not be aware of it. They’re focused on the business and maybe not stepping back and looking at the grand picture.

This is one area where Draper said there is room for improvement.

“We only completed 28 of those inspections, and on top of that 13 facility pre-plans,” he said. “No daycares were inspected. It boils down to time. I don’t have the time. …

“Of those 29 inspections, there were 49 violations,” he said. “All of those required re-inspections. Three of those required two re-inspections. Each of the inspections I go on are easily an hour to do it right. If there are violations, it’s more time and research.”

For this reason, Draper said he is going to try to get extra help on the inspection end this year.

“I don’t want to sound like I mind doing (inspections),” he said. “My goal here is to make sure people understand that … we can be doing all the daycares, all the businesses, but I can’t alone.”

Among other changes the EMS and fire departments saw last year were the acquisition of a new ambulance that was purchased through the county, a new fire truck, iPads and thermal cameras.

Concrete and gravel work was done at the Ivan Pierce Fire Training Center, as well.

“My intention is to turn that into a regional training facility, and we’re still on cue to do that,” Draper said. “We’re going to start bringing in props, like a burning car prop, a confined space prop. The state fire marshal has asked if we could do a grain bin simulator for grain entrapment.”

Perhaps the biggest change both EMS and fire underwent last year was the joining of the entities into a single department.

“We still have EMS and we still have fire … but we no longer at the administrative level have two separate entities,” Draper said. “We are together, and what that has done has strengthened us in the respect that we’re on the same page, our resources are joint, so it saves on financing, and it makes us stronger.

“We’re in the same building, and we have the same mission. We’re serving the community in emergency situations,” he said.

The decision to join the two was made by the city manager, and called for the EMS chief to report to the fire chief.

“We didn’t have problems before,” Draper said. “It just strengthens us as a department. That’s something that’s really encouraging for us internally.”

The report does a good job of showing where the department has been and where it’s going, Draper said.

“I feel that it is due to the community that’s funding us that we tell them what we’re doing, that we keep them informed,” he said. “The community is our boss.”

The full report can be found online at http://www.vermillion.us/ under the fire department’s page.

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