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County considers change to fire dept. call response policy

Tia Lynn Ivey News

The Morgan County Fire and Rescue (MCFR) may be scaling back call responses in an effort to “maximize efficiency and minimize wasted resources,” according to County Manager Adam Mestres.  County leaders are exploring ways to reduce the number of medical calls to which the MCFR typically responds.

According to Mestres, the fire department currently responds to all “Priority 1” calls and some “Priority 2” calls that come through Morgan County Dispatch. However, the classification system is broad enough that calls that do not always warrant the fire department to respond, says Mestres.

“What ends up happening is you have the fire department responding to some calls where they are not needed and showing up to medical situations that EMS (Emergency Medical Services) can handle on their own,” explained Mestres. “The fire department is not busier because of an increased volume in fire calls but because now they are answering more medical calls.”

According to the county, for 2017, there were 2,671 medical calls to dispatch, with 1,719 of those classified as Priority 1 calls and the Fire Department responding to about 64 percent of all medical calls.   Priority 1 calls include cases of heart attacks, strokes, unresponsive or unconscious persons, gunshot wounds, stabbings, and industrial accidents.

“The Fire Department should be responding to all of those, but right now, they are also responding to fender benders,” said Mestres who noted the fire department currently responds to all motor vehicle accidents called into dispatch, regardless of the severity. “We just need to sit down and reclassify which calls warrant a response from the fire department,” said Mestres. “We want them to respond to calls where additional manpower is actually needed and not responding for the sake of responding,” said Mestres.  According to Mestres, the drawback of responding to nonessential calls can not only open up the county to potential liabilities, but pull firefighters and equipment to an area of the county where they are not truly needed, possibly placing firefighters further away from an emergent situation, should it arise while they are tied up with a call EMS could handle alone.

“The primary role of the fire department is fire suppression–protecting life and safety among our citizens,” said Mestres. “The current call-response system is not always efficient enough for our fire department to know which calls they are needed at.” Morgan County currently employs eight-full fire department employees, not including the Fire Chief. There are a total of 84 firefighter volunteers for the county fire department.

Fire Chief Jeff Stone, along with the director of Morgan County Dispatch Amanda Proctor and the Emergency Medical Services officials have been tasked to rework the call-system by reclassifying which calls the fire department are asked to respond.

“Safety of our citizens is always first,” said Mestres. “So if the fire department or firefighters are closer to a call than our EMS workers are, then of course, they will respond even if EMS could technically handle the call on their own.”

According to Mestres, county officials will reevaluate the call system and put a new call-response policy in place immediately. “We will make a plan and execute that plan,” said Mestres. “Morgan County values all volunteer firefighters and first responders. This group of men and women are a true asset to our community and we appreciate their dedication to helping ensure safety for everyone.”

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