The Everett Fire Department is left scratching their heads as to the large drop in calls for service throughout 2020, just as medical aid calls continued to increase and dominate their activities on the fire service.
According to Chief Tony Carli, there were 1,000 fewer calls in 2020 compared to 2019 – coming in at 5,560 total calls for service and 5,632 calls logged. That was the biggest story in the numbers that the chief has annually crunched since he began to notice the fire service transforming to more of a medical aid response and less of a fire response several years ago. However, with a pandemic raging and so many families stuck at home for a large part of 2020, the chief said he had thought calls would be up – not down.
“We’re down about 1,000 calls from the previous year and those numbers do tell a story,” he said. “One year ago today, I would have said we were going to have so many more calls – food on the stove calls, small fire calls. We had those calls, but we just expected to have had 1,000 more calls and not 1,000 less. We’re looking for answers. With everyone at home, that’s a lot less people not commuting into the city and the casino was closed a lot of the time. I go back and forth on it. Everett is a working-class city and a lot of residents continued to go to work. Overall, I think a lot of people were not travelling through the city and a lot of our businesses were closed.”
Everett Fire Union President Craig Hardy said once the pandemic hit, one of the issues with lower calls was the “fear factor.” He said the Fire Department was busy, but the public was scared to call for help many times.
“This year with the pandemic I believe our call volume was down because many people were scared to call and didn’t want us coming in the home,” he said. “The fear factor was there. It was an anxious time and we changed a lot of how we do things with Chief Carli in order to protect the public and the firefighters as well.”
The overall calls show a vast amount of medical calls, and an alarming rate of false alarms/good intent calls – those calls resulting in a response that eventually was determined not to be necessary. Actual fire suppression calls were at 2 percent of the total calls for service, with 130 – a number that continues to go down, he said. The calls were as follows:
•Fire – 130 (2 percent)
•Ruptured Line – 0
•Medical Aid – 3,711 (66 percent)
•Hazardous Conditions – 215 (4 percent)
•Service Calls – 271 (5 percent)
•Good Intent Calls – 510 (9 percent)
•False Alarm – 760 (13 percent)
•Severe Weather/Natural Disaster – 2 (less than 1 percent)
•Special Incident Type – 33 (1 percent)
More than anything, the numbers are further proof for Chief Carli that an in-house ambulance/med service is critical to the survival of the Fire Department. Already, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Chief Carli have began a pilot to bring on 20 new fire personnel that would start by getting EMT certification and riding an ambulance while preparing to enter the Fire Academy. In the end, they would be full firefighter personnel, but also be specialized to staff and respond with an ambulance service. It’s a transformation the chief said is coming and long overdue.
“This is about looking at the numbers and the City and realizing if we don’t get into the medical now, it’s going to be difficult to keep these numbers of firefighters on,” he said. “We need these firefighters and we can’t lose them. As a whole, the Fire Service is getting to the point where they embrace it more. In 2020, 66 percent of our calls are medical and we have to do something. We have a good partner in Cataldo. We need to take this chance to see if we can help them and provide a better product for the taxpayers. The numbers don’t lie and I think we can do this. Today it’s 66 percent of the calls, but in the near future it could easily be 90 percent.”
The chief said all 20 new EMT/Firefighter personnel will be brought on in April. They will get certified as EMT’s fire, and five already have that certification. In the meantime, they will be on the list for the Massachusetts Fire Academy training, and those certified as EMTs will begin riding the new ambulance service. He said they believe they will be able to send five to the Academy in July – with others going when spots open up.
“We have to change and transition with the times and figure out the services we provide to the city,” he said. “These (new firefighters) will be on the line eventually doing fire suppression and EMT work as we try to transition.”
Hardy said the Fire Union isn’t against the idea of an ambulance in-house, and actually recommended the plan several years ago. However, he said there are a lot of things to work out before these new firefighters show up at a station for work.
“We go to every 9-1-1 medical call in the city and I’ve been on 23 years and it’s always been predominately medicals,” said Hardy. “The chief has said we’re not a progressive union but we believe we are progressive and we have recommended the ambulance for a long time…Now the City really wants to do it and we’re for it, but we need to negotiate it…We want to make sure it’s done right. We’re all for it but we want to go over all the hiccups because it’s a big change.”
One key point, he said, would be staffing. He said the new 20 firefighter/medical personnel only bring the contingent up to where it’s supposed to be now – at around 100. He said they still would need several more to staff the new ambulance and the fire suppression services too.