By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – The Longmeadow Fire Department set a record for number of emergency calls in 2019, providing additional strain for a department already experiencing personnel challenges.
“We’ve experienced significant growth in the past five years. We have seen an almost 30% increase in calls,” he said.
Fire Chief John Dearborn told the Longmeadow News he intends to strongly advocate for increased manpower as part of upcoming budget discussions.
While many comparable fire agencies staff shifts with six or seven firefighters, Longmeadow’s current budget only allows for five-person shifts, according to Dearborn, who added the town has added two positions in the past five years and many shifts are covered by overtime in order to maintain proper coverage. As a recent example, he said two firefighters came off-duty to help cover a heavy workload and ended up working 10 hours.
“Looking at communities similar to ours in the area, we are near the bottom in terms of staffing,” Dearborn said. “We’ve had good support from the Select Board and from the town, but people can only work so much overtime. They have to have time to rest and recuperate.”
A recent audit of the Fire Department showed it responded to 3,054 emergency calls in 2019 compared to 2,758 in 2018.
Medical emergencies made up nearly 65 percent of the total call volume and has been “going up year-to-year,” Dearborn said. In 2018, the Fire Department responded to 1,842 medical calls and 1,578 in 2017.
From a ratio standpoint, however, that was not the greatest increase. A smaller subset of responses that includes people in distress and hazards, which require a full departmental response, grew from 434 in 2017 to 652 in 2019.
The number of fires, not including contained kitchen fires, dropped from 43 in 2018 to 31 in 2019, but the dollar amount for property damage was higher, including the total loss on Magnolia Circle in April.
“This isn’t exclusive to Longmeadow,” Dearborn said of the overall workload increases. “Wilbraham and East Longmeadow also set records. It’s the EMS service that is driving it.”
Dearborn did note that medical emergencies also generate revenue. The department has offered ambulance services since 1994 and currently has three working ambulances with two active at any given time as standard departmental operation.
“We bill for services and we have a good collection rate,” he said. “The revenue offsets the cost of operation and it is just about self-sustaining.”