Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 23, 2013

Answering the call

Report highlights work of Ashland fire department

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — The Ashland Fire Department conducted more than 12,800 service runs, activities and events last year, according to its annual report.

It reported fewer false alarms in the latter half of 2012, an area it had targeted for reduction. Officials attribute this in part to a new false-alarm ordinance put in place last spring.  

The AFD, like the Ashland Police Department, retooled its annual report from a simple sheet of statistics to magazine-type format that is more aesthetic and detailed. It’s part of an effort to better explain and present its daily operations, said Fire Chief Scott Penick. He noted the change was one suggestion among the more than 90 given in last year’s comprehensive review of the department, which was conducted by the consulting firm McGrath Consulting at a cost of approximately $20,000.

“We’ve tried to take the money that was spent on McGrath and implement several different things,” he said.

The false-alarm ordinance, which penalizes a building’s owner if it has three false alarms within a 12-month period, was among the other suggestions the AFD has put in to place following the study. Penick said results are already becoming evident, even without a full year’s worth of data.

False alarms were down to 189 or just 12 percent of its call volume, compared to its 25.5 rate from 2008 to 2010, which the McGrath study reported. The drop cannot be entirely attributed to the ordinance, Penick cautioned.

“Some of that is due to us doing a better job on our reports,” he said, noting the department has changed the way it categories and reports many of its calls and activities.

For the first year, Penick said, the fire department was able to report its own call statistics. In past years the department has relied on the Regional Public Safety Communication Center to provide that information.

Penick said the AFD is paying particular attention to call volume in regard to day of the week and time of day.

“We try to develop our schedule around what the statistics are those days,” he said. For example, run volume is highest on Thursdays and Fridays, with 32 percent of calls occurring. Those days are typically slotted for truck maintenance days, while Tuesdays and Wednesdays are slightly lower with 28 percent occurring those days. Saturday and Sunday are the slowest days, with a combined 26 percent of calls occurring over the weekend. Fifteen percent of calls occur on Monday.

Call volume peaks at 6 p.m., then drops off, but reaching its lowest volume around 3 a.m. However, Penick said, the majority of fatal house fires occur during the early morning hours.  

In 2012, the AFD responded to 1,928 emergency 911 incidents. Of those, 352 were fires, explosions or overheating calls. These included 32 structure fires and 25 vehicle fires. These represented 16 percent of call volume. In 2011, there were 334 calls in this category.

Penick said the number of fires in the city “is pretty consistent” from year to year. “I always keep an eye on house fires and vehicle fires,” he said.

House-fire statistics have been dropping nationwide for some time, which firefighters attribute to increased public awareness and education. Penick said the AFD will keep up those lifesaving efforts. Last year it conducted 136 fire prevention and education tours and presentations, and installed smoke alarms in 106 homes in the city.

Rescue and emergency medical calls totaled 439 calls, which represented 28 percent of calls. These calls included cardiac arrests, seizures and lift assists. AFD answered an additional 205 service calls for residents in distress, locked out of their homes or cars or to assist the APD. Firefighters answered 252 hazardous conditions calls, including gas leaks, downed power lines, carbon dioxide leaks among others.

The AFD estimates it was able to save $2.9 million in property during the year, while losses because of fires was estimated at $997,000.

Training also increased during the year with firefighters instructing and participating in more than 5,000 hours of training. Each member of the department is required to have a minimum of 100 hours annually and at least 20 hours monthly.  

The AFD had an annual budget of $5.5 million in 2012. It has a staff of 53, which includes two civilians and 51 uniformed firefighters. The department is authorized for 57 positions. It is short one civilian fire inspector and three firefighters, Penick said. There were no retirements during 2012.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.