ELYRIA — The Fire Department will begin pulling back from the number of calls and the types of fire trucks it sends to certain emergencies starting Feb. 1, Assistant Safety Service Director Bruce Shade said.
The move will save the city thousands of dollars without affecting staffing levels. But it will be a drastic change from how things have been done when most emergency calls trigger a fleet of vehicles responding to a scene.
Shade said deployment of fire resources beginning next month will be more targeted and efficient.
“We’re looking at good common-sense practices,” he said. “We will not cut out the help that people need, but we are definitely going on a number of unnecessary calls and that has to change.”
A new system being worked out with LifeCare Ambulance Inc. and Lorain County 911 will include quickly assessing what is needed through garnering information from 911 callers and sending firefighters and trucks as needed. Shade said emergency dispatchers will have a very specific list of medical emergencies to use as a guide as to when to call the Fire Department.
Basic automatic fire alarm calls or minor motor vehicle accidents will no longer result in a response of several fire apparatus. The same goes for medical calls that are not life-threatening.
The move does not mean the city will completely pull back from being first responders in life-threatening situations. Fire trucks and firefighters still will respond to major accidents where victims need to be cut out of mangled vehicles — although those calls are few. Firefighters with paramedic training also will respond to medical calls where seconds count.
Shade said such a system could see Elyria’s call volume drop by approximately 800 calls per year with a savings — taking into account wear and tear on vehicles, supplies and equipment — of roughly $112,000 a year.
“This is not unheard of in fire service, and basically what we are looking at doing is being more judicious in how we deploy our resources,” he said.
Fire Chief Rich Benton said the changes will not result in more down time for firefighters. Instead, important work that has fallen by the wayside will get done on a more consistent basis, including building inspections, fire hydrant testing, action planning for large-scale operations and training.
“There is always work for the staff to do,” he said. “This will allow us to return to being a proactive department instead of reactive to situations.”
The new contract the city is negotiating with LifeCare will further solidify the city’s position that its Fire Department will not be used as much in the future. Current draft language specifically designates LifeCare as the primary provider of emergency medical services with the Fire Department having the reduced role of as needed first responders.
LifeCare President Pete de la Porte said the switch will not hurt the city. Between April 2009 and the middle of 2010, when layoffs and station closures forced the Fire Department to scale back service, a similar system was put into practice and LifeCare was able to handle the workload, he said.