The Urbana Fire Division responded to 2,863 calls for service in 2019, an average of 7.84 calls a day.
Urbana Fire Chief Dean Ortlieb said with the division’s minimum staffing level of five, the number of calls stretches the limits of the division’s capabilities to provide EMS and fire service to the community. In an attempt to enhance the effort to respond to calls, the UFD has partnered with Mercy Health to apply for a grant for a community paramedic program. In addition, the UFD is embarking on a series of outreach efforts to reduce fires.
On-duty personnel staff EMS and fire vehicles, with a minimum staffing of two for EMS vehicles and three for fire. Additionally, the division staffs a command vehicle, which allows an immediate command presence on any incident and provides the capabilities to scale up, according to the chief.
“The Urbana Fire Division provides service for an estimated 16,000 people, which includes the city, all of Urbana Township and parts of Salem and Concord townships,” said Ortlieb. “With just one EMS incident at minimum staffing, we lose the ability to staff a fire vehicle with a minimum of three. This does not mean we will not respond to a fire incident. We will respond, but our actions become limited. Last year the Urbana Fire Division averaged two calls for service at the same time 1.38 times a day and three calls for service at the same time 0.24 times a day.”
Ortlieb stated that fire and EMS crews take pride in taking their runs. It is common for EMS vehicles to drop off a patient at the emergency room and turn around and take another run.
He said many mutual aid partners either have volunteer and/or part-time personnel. He said he’s concerned that if a second or third run is dispatched, the fire division may lack enough personnel, and mutual aid partners may take 10 minutes or longer to get to the city.
Ortlieb said the goal of the Urbana Fire Division is to take an EMS or fire call after the first call for service since a fire can double in size every minute and a person with no pulse will start to lose brain cells after five minutes. Both situations require an immediate response, he said.
Last year, EMS calls accounted for 82.03% of the incidents, fire calls were 13.11% and auto accidents were 4.86% of total incidents.
”Any fire chief wishes that they could schedule when incidents occur,” said Ortlieb. “This would allow us to have the proper personnel, vehicles and equipment present to fight a fire or save a life. At the Urbana Fire Division, they take their mission of fighting fires and saving lives beyond the incident response.”
Ortlieb said the division is ramping up inspections, enforcement and education in an effort to reduce fires. He added the division is working with Mercy Health to obtain a grant for a community paramedic program for the county. The status of the grant application could be known as early as February. These combined steps, Ortlieb said, may reduce the number of service calls.
He said the last time the division added to its staff was in 1992. At that time the division responded to 1,827 calls for service. Since 1992, calls for service have increased by more than 56%, he added.
“Short of increasing manpower, it is not an option to find a way to reduce incidents, but a necessity,” said Ortlieb. “We want to be a full-service division and find ways to reduce risks to protect property and save lives. Even if our manpower increases in the future, we will always have within our playbook a risk reduction plan for our community.”
Information provided by Urbana Fire Chief Dean Ortlieb.