Camanche sign in park

CAMANCHE – With the Camanche Fire Department responding to almost 300 more calls in 2019 than it did in 2010, Fire Chief Dave Schutte will request the city consider adding more staff to the department.

Schutte reported at a council meeting earlier this year the Camanche Fire Department in 2019 responded to 704 calls for service.

The fire department responded to 429 calls for service in 2010, when the city added the third paramedic and firefighter position. The fire department saw a decrease in 76 calls from 2015 to 2017 but has seen a spike in the last couple years, which Schutte believes is in part due to the addition of Park Vista in Camanche. The city responded to 516 calls in 2017, almost 200 calls less than the 2019 call numbers.

Schutte anticipates the trend of increased call volumes to continue, citing the Park Vista assisted living facility and an aging population.

“We have a myriad of people that are in that older age range and we have health problems and things like that,” Schutte said. “So that lends itself to a higher call volume.”

Data from a National Fire Protection Agency survey shows an increase in over 11 million calls from 2008 to 2018, which was the last year data is available. The data indicates there was a decrease of less than 1 million from 2016 to 2017 before a spike of over 2 million from 2017 to 2018 nationally.

Schutte said with staffing at its current level, the three full-time employees with the fire department are all at the department during the day because the day is the greatest time of need.

Schutte said 60% of the department’s calls come in during the day, with 90% of department volunteers at work during the day. Schutte said one night this week the city had calls at 9:30 p.m., 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. He said the overnight calls affect department employees when they come in at 7 a.m. for the normal shift.

“Any time you come into work tired there’s, like I said, probably less productivity, higher likelihood of injury, not good for your health, those type of things,” Schutte said. “So we’re trying to figure out ways to make sure that we’re taking care of both the mental and physical well-being of our people.”

Schutte said the city in July added a part-time, paid, on-call segment to try to fill in some gaps. He said it was a weekend and volunteer commitment, adding it was not mandatory except for doing a certain amount of shifts per month.

“There’s some weekends and some days that you can’t fill just because their primary job prohibits that because of their hours or they’re just not available. But that’s something else we try to do to help with the staffing.”

Schutte, at budget time, will ask the city to consider adding staff to the fire department. Schutte added he has multiple proposals and is in the preliminary stages, with the budget process still yet to play out. Schutte said if the department is able to add two additional staff members, the department could have an employee at the fire department 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“Now you have the staffing here,” Schutte said. “It’s only one person but it would be a paramedic that would be able to lead those crews and things like that. So hopefully that would provide some relief for everybody else just because they would have that time off.”

Camanche Police Chief Colin Reid has similar concerns with the fire department staffing he had with the police department, which has seen staffing increase since he was hired as chief in 2017. Reid believes the fire department staffing, while expensive, needs to increase.

“They do an outstanding job,” Reid said. “But they are stressed. They are taxed at this level. Their call load as he (Schutte) reports every two weeks keeps going up exponentially. My call load has gone up every year for the most part. We’re not getting any less busy. So the need is certainly there.”