The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

VWFD works to deal with record EMS runs

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

While fire runs have been mostly stable the last few years, that’s not the case with EMS runs, which have seen double-digit increases in each of the last several years, according to Van Wert Fire Chief Jim Steele.

ems-artwork-12-2016“We’ve seen growth of 13 percent the last two years,” Chief Steele said, noting that the increase this year is 15 percent. “This is the highest run volume ever; we beat last year’s record (volume) in October and it just keeps going on.”

In fact, the fire chief said EMS runs in 2016 could reach 1,900 for the year, if run levels continue as they have, which he expects them to do.

And that’s a problem for a department that remains at 1974 staffing levels, the chief noted. “Our staffing levels are the same as when we did 800-900 runs a year, but we’ve more than doubled that now,” he said, adding that daily run levels have increased from 3 or 4 a day, to 10 to 12 runs.

“Run volume is the elephant in the room,” Chief Steele said, adding that it’s also something his department can’t control. “We really try to manage it, but we can’t just take the phone off the hook and say we’re done doing runs today.”

Furthermore, while heroin overdoses and other substance-abuse related runs have increased, it’s the aging Baby Boomers who make up most of the city’s EMS run volume. “Our dominant patient that we deal with is the over 65-year-old male and female that’s having some type of cardiac issue or respiratory issue, or a fall,” Chief Steele said.

While he said increases in EMS run volume are not unique to Van Wert — Columbus EMS runs have increased approximately 50,000 — the city fire chief said those who forecast such things are calling for double the runs in 3-5 years. While his staff and equipment have held up well, Chief Steele said it will be a challenge to deal with that many EMS runs.

Moreover, with the higher EMS run volume, overtime costs have also increased, as well as wear and tear on equipment and fatigue concerns for fire personnel.

Fortunately, the department has state-of-the-art equipment, including Braun Industries-made ambulances that have held up well to the increased workload.

“These babies run like iron,” Chief Steele said, while noting the department will soon need to replace its oldest squad vehicle, which is now 13 years old, although it’s holding up well. “We have had really good luck with the Type 1 truck chassis and Braun ambulance bodies, much better than the van-type ambulances we used to have.”

That is a good thing, because General Fund budget woes have forced the city to use up to two-thirds of the .22-percent income tax meant for vehicle and other equipment purchases to pay police and fire salaries and benefits. Unfortunately, the capital funds are needed to offset decreases in state funding and investment income, but that leaves far less money to replace aging police and fire equipment.

One positive, the fire chief said, is that “soft billing” for Medicare patients and those who have coverage through their homeowners’ insurance has brought in approximately $250,000 a year, which helps offset increased overtime costs.

While the chief said he would definitely like to see an extra firefighter/medic on each of the department’s three shifts, he also acknowledged that the cost of training and equipping fire/EMS personnel is not cheap. “Firemen are expensive,” he noted.

Chief Steele said his personnel are dealing with the situation as best they can. “They’re doing what they’re getting paid to do, and that’s taking care of people,” he noted.

However, because of the time needed for the higher EMS run volume, the department has had to make compromises. VWFD personnel now receive assistance from the city’s maintenance department to provide regular maintenance of their vehicles — something fire personnel did on their own in the past.

The fire department has also relied on new technology, such as automatic CPR machines, to avoid the need to add personnel on squad runs, while also increasing its capabilities with in-vehicle EKG equipment and other high-tech devices.

Chief Steele did note that, while he likes to hire people with past or current military experience, the increasing demands put on military reservists and national guards staff have also had a negative effect on department staffing.

“We’ve had a person deployed (on active military duty) for each of the last three years, and will have someone deployed next year as well,” the fire chief said.

Meanwhile, Chief Steele said his department is coping pretty well with the added demands for EMS service, but wondered aloud how much longer that will last.

“How many more runs can you take?” he asked, noting that, with the increases the city has seen in EMS run volume, this year’s 1,900 total could be nearer to 2,200. “We’re a victim of our own success; we’re living longer.”

POSTED: 12/31/16 at 10:14 am. FILED UNDER: News