As community grows, variety of emergency calls expand for Woodlands Fire Department
In past generations, one of the stereotypical views of firefighters often involved a cat climbing into a tree and an elderly woman calling the local fire department for help getting the beloved kitty down.
While that type of incident may still occur today, the reality is the vast majority of fire departments across Texas are responding to thousands of incidents, all of which are broken down into very specific categories and sub-classifications.
The Woodlands Fire Department is no different, said Chief Alan Benson and Deputy Chief Doug Adams — two of the administrators at the department that help classify deployments into nine general categories each month. The reports are provided to The Woodlands Township Board of Directors during each month’s meetings and help both township officials and others analyze what the department is responding to each month and why.
“About 61 percent of all our incidents are EMS, then typically, just like most communities, our fires encompass right around about 3 percent, which is good, but that is typical of most communities,” Benson said. “We pride ourselves in customer service, but, no, we don’t get cats out of trees.”
In The Woodlands, based on the past nine months of statistics, the overwhelming top response call for firefighters is rescues and emergency medical services incidents, which totalled more than 5,600 calls since November of 2017 through July 2018. In comparison, responses to actual fires for the same time period totalled only 178 incidents. The Woodlands Fire Department not only serves The Woodlands, but also provides fire and EMS services for the city of Shenandoah, Benson noted. The agreement has been in place for about seven years.
Benson and Adams both said the department is averaging about 100 incidents per month in Shenandoah.
More than fighting fires
The types of calls the fire department responds to are broken down into numerous categories, with sub-classifications within those main types of incidents. The nine categories include: fires; overpressure ruptures, explosions and overheating; rescue and emergency medical services incidents; hazardous conditions (with no fire); service calls; good intent calls; false alarms and false calls; severe weather and natural disasters; and special incidents.
Adams said the classification system is part of the National Fire Incident Reporting System, and he noted that many calls the department responds to do not fit into one specific classification.
“It is truly about the call…the person who is calling and sees the event,” Adams said of reports the department receives from the public.
The highest number of calls The Woodlands Fire Department responded to in the past nine months was rescues and emergency medical services, Adams said.
“With medical response calls, we have paramedics on all our (fire) trucks,” Adams said. “We may send a truck to an accident where there is no fire but medical aid is needed.”
Adams said service calls can include anything relatively benign, such as being locked out of a car or home, a steam leak, animal problems or even a defective elevator.
“Usually someone needs help but it is not an emergency,” Adams said of service calls. “It could be an access issue — someone may need to have a gas line turned off — or an animal trapped in a storm drain.”
Benson said the common thought of firefighters getting cats out of trees isn’t realistic, but firefighters do indeed help some animals that may be trapped when making a service call.
“We’ve had some unusual incidents where deer have gotten their head caught in wrought iron gate,” Benson said. “We’ve had our firefighters go in there and, not try to tear it up, and get the deer out.”
One category, the “good intent” calls, generally refers to incidents where a reporting party legitimately believes an emergency is underway, but in reality the situation is not an emergency, Adams said.
“(It is someone saying) ‘Hey, I smell smoke,’ or ‘I see smoke,’ and we go out there and find it is a controlled burn,” Adams said of some “good intent” calls. “Someone may view it as an emergency, but it isn’t.”
Actual fire calls are not that common, Adams explained, and can be broken down into multiple sub-classifications including the obvious building or structure fire, a cooking fire confined to a container, a vehicle fire or even a dumpster fire.
“(Fires) Are a pretty broad category and it gets very specific. It can be anywhere from a grass fire to an appliance or a structure fire. It is a pretty broad category,” Adams noted. “We may get called for a building fire, but then we get there and (the fire) is in a trash can.”
Another category the department responds to is false alarms, which like good intent calls are expected part of the job, Adams noted. The two types of calls do not cost the department any extra funds, as everything the department does is accounted for in the annual budget.
More people, more calls
Benson said the numbers of overall calls the department responds to is on the rise.
“Our incident rates…we’re on pace to eclipse 12,000 runs this year, we’ve been climbing 10 percent (year over year) steady for the last 10 years,” Benson said, noting the population density affects the number of calls. “
The rising numbers of incidents, Adams said, requires the department to examine and analyze staffing at each fire station in The Woodlands.
“Station-wise, we’re pretty good. Where we’re going to have to look is do we have the proper resources in those stations,” Adams said.
Benson said the rising population in turn leads to more incidents the department responds to.
“As our incident rate continues to rise, more simultaneous incidents will begin to happen. We are tracking the data,” Benson said. “Do we have enough resources? Our other stations can accomodate more than one company. At what point in time would the data (indicate a need for more staffing), and that is what we’re tracking.”