Of the 1,084 service calls the Statesboro Fire Department answered in 2016, more than 900 calls, or a little over 83 percent, were emergency responses, but fire alarm malfunctions made up a majority of the reported emergencies.
Meanwhile, 178 calls, or more than 16 percent of the overall total, were nonemergency calls, with firefighters doing things such as educating the public about fire safety and installing smoke alarms.
Delivering an annual report recently, Fire Chief Timothy Grams told City Council he would like to see the proportion of nonemergency calls increase to about 25 percent of the total.
“In 2010 when I was promoted, we really wanted to change our approach and become more of a proactive service versus reactive, meaning we need to go out and bolster up our education and our programs that help prevent losses, rather than just sit back and wait for those calls to come in,” Grams explained in an interview last week.
The count of nonemergency calls did not include the 1,524 fire inspections and other activities handled by the department’s Prevention Division, which were counted separately.
Grams presented the calendar year 2016 report June 20. He narrated a brief slideshow with graphs. Other, somewhat different information was included in council members’ packets. Grams said this was the first time he formally presented a year’s report to the council, previous reports having been in print or computer format only.
Police Chief Charles “Mike” Broadhead is slated to deliver a departmental report at the July 18 council meeting. The two departments have been recognized as separate again only since the council abolished references to a combined Department of Public Safety at the end of 2015.
Of the Statesboro Fire Department’s 904 emergency calls last year, 526 turned out to be fire alarms where there was no fire, Grams reported.
“As you’ll see, the vast majority of our calls are fire alarms, but next highest is structure fires,” he told the mayor and council.
In 2016, the department responded to 84 structure fires, which constituted 10 percent of the emergency calls. There were 40 wildland or open-area fires, or 5 percent of the total, and 41 calls to deal with hazardous materials, another 5 percent. The 24 vehicle fires came to roughly 3 percent of the total.
The 27 calls involving rescues or extricating people from wrecked vehicles constituted another category of emergencies, and another 3 percent of the total. “Other responses,” 53 of them, made up roughly 6 percent, as did 49 “smoke scares.”
Phony alarms down
The 526 “fire alarm” calls were in one sense false alarms because, as Grams explained, alarms that turn out to be structure fires are moved to that category. But 470 of the alarm calls were attributed to alarm system malfunctions, while 56 were intentional false alarms.
Intentional false alarms, Grams said, have been reduced from past years when there were well over 200. This resulted from a cooperative effort involving police investigations and Georgia Southern University disciplinary procedures. Students in apartment complexes had triggered many of the false alarms, he said in the interview.
“We started getting pretty aggressive,” Grams said. “If we could identify who it was, we were prosecuting those types of things, and Georgia Southern really helped.”
In 2016, nonemergency service calls logged by SFD firefighters included 54 public relations activities and community events, 52 fire safety education events or classes and the installation of 48 smoke alarms and 22 child safety car seats.
Grants help the department provide smoke detectors to people who may not be able to install their own. The city doesn’t provide child safety seats, but for new parents unsure of their ability, both the fire and police departments have personnel trained to install the seats or check to make sure they have been installed properly.
Division Chief Tracy NeSmith now leads the department’s Prevention Division, which also includes inspectors Jeffrey Flake and Carlos Nevarez. In 2016 the division conducted 1,156 fire inspections of commercial establishments, 158 public assembly places such as churches and schools, 146 residential and 64 industrial properties, Grams reported.
Residential inspections are of multi-family housing, such as apartment complexes.
Education activities, including 39 show-and-tells and station tours and four “fire safety presentations,” such as for civic groups, were also attributed to this division. Obviously in demand with elementary school children, the department is trying to expand its outreach to high school and college students, Grams said.
Training Division Chief Bobby Duggar and Capt. Parker Johnson constitute this division, but are assisted by firefighters in the ranks with specialized certifications. In 2016 the firefighters collectively received more than 13,291 hours of training, or an average of almost 256 hours each, more than required to maintain Statesboro’s ISO, or Insurance Services Office, fire protection rating and far exceeding Georgia’s requirement, Grams reported.
Since the beginning of 2017, the relocated and renovated fire training tower has been completed with the addition of a rappelling wall. Taken down for the earlier renovation of the department’s Station 1 on West Grady Street, the tower was reinstalled at the public safety training complex on U.S. Highway 301 North.
The remodeled tower, with a five-story interior and an attic, was designed in consultation with the Statesboro Police Department, the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and the Emergency Medical Service for use by all the agencies, Grams said.
At the same site, the new live-burn building was used by firefighter recruits for the first time last month. Constructed of ship-to-truck trailer containers around an interior and an exterior stairwell, the building simulates a two-story home and is fueled by burning wooden shipping pallets.
This gives a far more realistic fire in terms of smoke and heat than the department’s portable LP-gas live-burn simulator, Duggar and Grams said.
City Council approved a $73,560 contract for the rappelling wall and burn building in January, concluding longer-term work on the training facility, which Grams said has cost between $350,000 and $375,000.
Deputy Chief Ronnie Shaw and four battalion chiefs lead the Operations Division, and the department currently employees 48 fulltime certified firefighters, including the officers.
Call volume has been fairly steady the past three years, with last year’s 1,084 service calls following 1,054 calls in 2015 and 1,090 in 2014.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.