Fire departments see uptick in medical runs


Across Dubois County, the primary service fire departments offer has undergone a transformation in recent years. The number of medical calls they receive is soaring upward. And the number of fire calls they receive has dropped.

Kenny Hochgesang, Jasper’s fire chief, said his department has seen an uptick in the total number of calls in the past two years.

In 2018, for example, the department responded to 361 medical-, fire- and faulty-alarm-related incidents — eight more than it fielded in 2017. But in 2016, the department responded to just 271 service calls, and members shipped out to even fewer scenes prior to that.

“The medical portion has made the difference,” Hochgesang said. “We used to be around 25 or 30 percent of our responses were medical. And last year we were about 53 percent medical.”

The Jasper Volunteer Fire Department responds to 911 calls that require needed medical assistance when an ambulance is not available in Jasper, and when CPR is ongoing. Hochgesang credited the jump in calls to an increase in the area’s population.

“Sometimes we have the repeat calls, like an elderly person may slip out of their chair, and it takes more than the ambulance staff to be able to lift those (people),” Hochgesang said. “Sometimes we need five or six people to lift the patient up. Things like that ... we have a few of those repeat calls where you go back.”

The department also assists with lifting large patients at nursing homes, for example, if they need to be transported to a hospital. Hochgesang explained that the service the department provides has shifted over the years — from predominantly fire-related issues to medical calls.

Twenty-two of the department’s volunteer firefighters are medically-trained, so the increase in medical calls has not strained the department, Hochgesang said.

He attributed the drop in fire calls to new building materials and he and Dave “Smitty” Smith, fire chief of the Birdseye Volunteer Fire Department, also credited their drop in fire calls to their departments’ education and fire prevention programs.

Smith said his department — which operates on a much smaller scale than Jasper’s — has experienced a similar run ratio change in recent years.

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in the medical runs versus the fire (runs),” he said. “Out of the 80 runs that we have a year, probably, I’m gonna say at least 80 percent are medical. And that number has probably went up a little bit in the last few years.”

Smith figured the department previously had a 70-25 or 70-30 split between medical and fire calls. He said many of the medical calls the Birdseye department responds to are not emergencies like car accidents, but things like people needing help to a hospital after falling down, for example.

Ferdinand Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Hoppenjans said his department has seen an increase in total call volume. He didn’t know if the difference was all medical calls, but said the 2018 number of 160 runs was up about 30 runs from a normal year.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in more medical runs,” he said, unsure of why the number is going up. He hypothesized it could be because people are more conscious of signs and symptoms of strokes and heart attacks, but said he wasn’t sure.

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