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Roanoke Free Press
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fire/EMS calls increase in 2012 – recruitment a challenge

Fire Chief Hoback presents hockey puck to Police Chief Perkins.

Fire Chief Hoback presents hockey puck to Police Chief Perkins.

Roanoke City Fire Chief David Hoback and Police Chief Chris Perkins before their annual update on public safety Monday paced the puck. The loser game puck passed to the Guns hockey team this year.

Chief Hoback’s Hoses team as the winners this year got a little payback with Chief Perkins of the Guns team. The score was Hoses 4 – Guns 2. The “Guns and Hoses” annual hockey game is a charity event for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It  pulled in $28,000 for MDA. Attendance was estimated at over 7000.

Chief Hoback said that the June 29 derecho storm drove the Fire/EMS Department to run the most calls in the department’s history – 25,758 calls. The storm produced 650 fire calls. The damage sustained to the $1 million new No. 1 ladder truck on the day of the derecho  has been repaired he said.

On the medical side EMS runs were up by 1400 but were still meeting benchmarks.

Fire Chief David Hoback briefs city council.

Fire Chief David Hoback briefs city council.

For 2012 the number of building fires increased from 61, an all-time low for 2011 to 71 in 2012.  The new response time system relies on the firefighter to remember to push a button upon both leaving and arriving at a fire. That was a learning curve for firefighters this year said Hoback. “We’re all now computerized,” he said.

The weather was a contributing factor on travel time performance which was down slightly for 2012. Six calls did not meet performance standards partly due to a large fire during the derecho.

Property loss from 2012 fires totaled $3.6 million and most of that was due to the General Truck Body Company fire. There were 42 arsons – up by 4 from the previous year. Arsons averaged 37% of all fires – 46% of the fires were accidental and the cause of 17% of fires were undetermined. Most arson cases are a result of mischief and others occur in abandon structures said Hoback.

It took a couple years for the department to maximize response time on the new fire station locations. “Now we are stable and where we need to be,” said Hoback. The Fire-EMS Department has been accredited for the third time for another 5 years.

Recruitment has been a challenge at times but they are currently at capacity. “This year was the lowest turnout we’ve had since I’ve been with the fire department,” said Hoback. City Manager Chris Morrill has allowed the department to “over hire.” It takes 10-11 months of training before a recruit can be placed on duty. A recruitment committee has been assembled and “we’re going to start hitting that really hard – we’ve never had to do much recruiting before,” he said.

Morrill said 3 older fire stations need replacing and realignment at a cost of $16 million – Station 2 on Noble Avenue, Station 7 on Memorial Avenue and Station 8 on Crystal Spring Avenue. It’s all in an effort to enhance response time. “Fires are all about how long does it take to get someplace,” said Morill. “Once that’s done and the city limits are set we will have pretty much modernized all of our stations,” Architectural and Engineering is anticipated to cost $700 thousand for 2014.

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