by Eric Hagen
Fire Chief Mark DuCharme on Feb. 1 gave the East Bethel City Council an update on what the 2011 trends were in the East Bethel Fire Department.
There were 521 calls for service in 2011, which was down from the 545 calls the fire department handled in 2010. The average number of annual calls between 2006 and 2011 was approximately 529, according to statistics DuCharme provided.
DuCharme’s educated guess on the reason for the decline between 2011 and 2010 was a wet spring and summer leading to fewer wildland fire calls. There were six grass fire calls in 2011.
However, the number of illegal burns the fire department had to respond to last year was too high for DuCharme. There were 14 calls for unauthorized burning. DuCharme said wildland fires will be a concern this year because of the dry conditions.
Well over half the calls in 2011 were for responding to medical emergencies, DuCharme reported. There were 288 calls for medical needs, which constitutes 55.28 percent of all calls.
The next highest call volume was 66 calls that were cancelled as firefighters were responding to the call. There were 26 calls to report down power lines.
The fire department tracks where all the calls went. DuCharme was not surprised to see that the higher density areas of the community drew the most calls.
The busiest months were July and August, when there were 64 and 57 calls respectively. DuCharme said these were busy months because of the storms that moved through the area. The busiest days were Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The busiest time period was between 4 and 8 p.m.
There are 110 businesses in East Bethel, not including home-based businesses. DuCharme said the department’s part-time inspector Mark Duchene was able to inspect 75 of those businesses in 2011. Of those, 45 only needed to be inspected once, 25 needed a second inspection and five businesses had to be visited three or more times. DuCharme said Duchene has about four hours a week available throughout the year to do the inspections.
The most typical violations Duchene found at the businesses was not enough fire extinguishers and not enough lighting of exits and entry ways. Councilmember Robert DeRoche Jr. asked if the city fines businesses if they need to make repeat visits for fire code inspections. DuCharme said they could do this in some cases. The city attorney reviews cases before any fines are imposed.
DuCharme said when accounting for all the unpaid and paid hours, East Bethel firefighters make about $6.68 per hour.
The volunteer firefighters are paid when they respond to calls, work on maintaining the equipment and attend the Monday night training sessions. There are many other firefighter training opportunities outside East Bethel. While the city does cover the fees for these training seminars, the firefighters are not earning a wage when they are there. East Bethel firefighters are also not paid when they volunteer to teach fire prevention classes to the public, show up at the fire stations for fire prevention week open houses and work with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, according to DuCharme.
One goal for the department will be getting more volunteers to staff the fire hall in the Coon Lake Beach neighborhood. DuCharme noted that the East Bethel Fire Department’s average response time exceeds national standards, but he is always striving to improve response times.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]