By Scott Sullivan
The Saugatuck Township Fire District responded to a record 977 calls last year despite fire calls being at a record low.
The good news is the department, which has tallied calls since 2004, responded in 2019 to only 21 fires, down from the 67 high in 2005 and 30 such calls last year.
That drop to some extent might be attributed to community risk-reduction efforts, including proactive education, improved premise-safety standards and inspections, plus free installations of smoke detectors.
But those efforts take manpower too. Call statistics, compiled now under National Fire Incident Report System standards, group many such efforts under what STFD IT Director Erik Kirchert reports in the “Other Calls” category.
Fire departments which choose to submit such statistics to the NFIRS database, run by the Homeland Security Agency, are eligible for federal grants because they can document their activities, Kirchert said.
Such “Other calls” numbered 442 in 2019, up from last year’s record of 376 and just 74 in 2004. Those numbers have risen dramatically since 2014, when 149 “other calls” were tallied.
Other year-end statistics highlights, Kirchert noted:
- Last December was above average for that month and tied the December 2012 high of 76 calls. The average for those 31 fall-winter days is 60.
- Monday was the busiest day in December. Typically Fridays and Saturdays are the district’s most active days, while daylight hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. see the most calls.
- Emergency services (EMS) calls totaled 514 last year, 52.6 percent of the total calls and in keeping with recent averages.
- Severe weather and natural disaster calls came to 28, more than double 2018’s total.
- Last year’s 75 motor vehicle incidents were fewer than the record 89 in 2016, when I-196 construction contributed to a rash of accidents. But it was more than average.
- Saugatuck Township, the largest in population and total area of the fire district’s tri-communities, saw 364 total calls. Next came Douglas city with 282, then Saugatuck city with 251.
- The department responded to 46 Priority 1 and 2 calls at Grace of Douglas senior living facilities, up from 30 in 2018.
- Average incident response times held relatively steady at 5 minutes, 40 seconds, down from 5:53 last year but up from 5:31 in 2017.
- A Meadow Argus garage fire resulted in 2019’s largest property loss, roughly $50,000 at a house Zillow estimated to be worth $313,000.
- The department installed 75 10-year smoke alarms, 30 interconnected alarms and 32 carbon monoxide alarms in 24 homes in last year.
- It made and installed 22 address signs, and conducted 163 rental inspections or re-inspections covering 287,356 square feet of property.
- Trained inspectors spent 267 hours on plan reviews or project inspections, including meetings and/or phone calls, on 64 differing projects last year.
- More homes having security systems, smoke and CO detectors also led to more false alarms, 60, specifically around breakfast and dinner times in 2019.
“If we look at our neighbor to the north,” said Kirchert, “Graafschap (which also serves Laketown Township), they ended 2019 with 754 calls, a new record and a very high number.
“(STFD) Chief (Greg) Janik reports that this is the trend he sees when he talks to other chiefs in the area,” Kirchert said.