SHFAD sets records in medical, total calls

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District set records in total number of calls, 2,792, and medical calls, 2,417 or 6.6 calls per day, in 2014.

The district responded to 375 fire calls in 2014, a little under the record of 390 fire calls set in 2006.

That’s an increase from 2,483 calls in 2013. That year, the district responded to 2,212 medical calls and 271 fire calls.

The fire department responded to many wire-down calls in 2014 during wind storms and freezing weather, said Fire Chief Dave Barringer. That boosted the total number of fire calls.

The growing number of medical calls is becoming a problem, he said. “We’re understaffed. We’ve had several times (that) we’ve had Lebanon units come over.”

Getting staff back for medical calls on their days off is getting more difficult, Barringer said. They’re responding to more calls and staying up all night during their shifts and unable to respond as as often while resting on their days off.

The district is tapping its mutual aid agreement with Lebanon frequently, and it’s becoming a problem, he said. The district doesn’t have the funding to hire new medics.

To address the issue, the district is applying for a SAFER grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Barringer said. The grant would pay for three medics for two years.

Currently, each shift has three paid paramedics, including a battalion chief and two medics, along with resident volunteers and interns.

On top of staffing, the department had problems in 2014 with keeping its ambulances functioning. Twice, the district was down to two ambulances and had to rely on Lebanon to run medical calls.

The district has since purchased a used ambulance, and an area resident has donated $100,000 to help pay for a new four-wheel drive ambulance. The district is anticipating the delivery of the used ambulance this week.

The district will attempt an Assistance to Firefighters Grant again this year, Barringer said. The last time the district successfully won the grant, it purchased 30 sets of turnouts. This time, the money would be used for communications, to build a repeater on High Deck Road, allowing better radio coverage east of Sweet Home.

Another upcoming issue will be the expiration of air bottles in 2017, Barringer said. Those cost $1,000 each, and the district has 40 of them.

“I’m looking at a lot of these things and prioritizing,” Barringer said. “We’ve really cut back how much we’re spending.”