SMITHVILLE — The pandemic has brought more medical calls to the Smithville Area Fire Protection District compared to last year. With a total of 523 in 2020 from January through July, the number has increased by more than 20% compared to 2019’s 376.
“June (was) incredibly busy,” SAFPD Chief Dave Cline said. “June 1 through June 15, 2020 SAFPD responded to 73 incidents, including 53 medical emergencies. We average 100-115 incidents in a typical month. Compare that to June 1 through 23, 2019; we responded to 39 incidents including 24 medical emergencies.”
Cline said it is difficult to say which were related to COVID-19 concerns.
“We do not receive any definitive data on the outcome of patient contacts,” Cline explained. “We treated many patients who ‘screened positive’ meaning that they had signs and symptoms of the virus. We also have numerous patients who ‘screened negative’ or were asymptomatic for the virus but were later tested and confirmed positive. Combining what was a rough allergy season for lots of people and the high heat and humidity conditions for several days, we responded to a lot of people who had respiratory emergencies.”
Aside from health-related incidents, Cline said fires are up this year. SAFPD has responded to three structure fires, two vehicle fires and five trash fires during the first two quarters of 2020 compared to two structure, two vehicle and three trash fires in 2019.
Cline attributed some of those numbers to a wet spring in 2019 ahead of the summer season.
Something that can be attributed to coronavirus is the decrease in vehicular accident calls to the station. From January through July of 2020, SAFPD has responded to 32 accidents compared to 54 during the same time period last year. This is likely due to stay-home orders and people traveling less to limit the spread of COVID-19, he said.
Cline said the SAFPD is still diligently doing child safety installs totaling at 11 from January through July compared to four in 2019. However, the district has had only one public education event compared to three in 2019; five public CPR classes compared to four in 2019; 11 public relations events compared to 12 in 2019; and six smoke detector installations compared to 18 in 2019.
“Firefighters typically perform two hours of training everyday,” Cline said adding that the daily training has not been interrupted. “Due to COVID-19 most outside training, outside the department, has been canceled. Personnel have not been able to attend conferences or training events we typically send them to. We have been able to continue our in-house training program; we have a series of 26 fire/rescue topics that firefighters complete twice a year. In addition, there are 26 medical-related topics they also cover twice a year to maintain their EMS licenses.”
Cline said between January and July of this year, firefighters have accumulated 2,188.25 training hours, which exceeds 2019’s 2,112.75 hours over the same time period.
“SAFD has implemented numerous changes to not only protect firefighters but also the community,” Cline said outlining the district’s response to coronavirus. “Starting in March, firefighters wore basic personal protective equipment, gloves, masks and eye protection to all incidents regardless of whether the citizen had signs and symptoms of the virus. ... We pride ourselves on keeping our stations clean, but that went into overdrive for our buildings and equipment. Surfaces such as desks, doors, countertops, floors and chairs are all routinely cleaned with disinfectants.”
Cline added that suit equipment, like firefighter breathing apparatuses, is cleaned even more frequently, generally after every run. The biggest impact, Cline said has been community involvement, much like others in the community, they are required to physically distance.
“What we have been able to do is numerous ‘birthday parades,’” he said. “For children celebrating their birthday but unable to host a party with friends. We have been part of over a dozen parades with Smithville police and (Northland Regional Ambulance District) past those children’s homes.”