Emergency medical calls dominate fire department activity in January

Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department personnel responded to 374 calls last month, almost 60 percent of them emergency medical responses, according to the department’s monthly report presented Monday to the City Council Public Safety Committee.

That number was 13 less than the number of calls the department responded to in December.

Department spokesman Lt. Harold Clark said there were 13 structure fires in January, and the department is now tracking the ward where each fire occurred. In January, there was one fire in Ward 1, no fires in Ward 2, three in Ward 3 and nine in Ward 4.

Clark said five of the fires last month were determined to be arson.

“Arson is easy to identify but it’s hard to convict and that’s why we need everybody to get involved,” Clark said.

Clark also said two firefighters are currently attending the Arkansas Fire Training Academy and are scheduled to graduate in March.

Chief Shauwn Howell said the department is currently rated a three by the Insurance Services Office, a rating that determines rates for home insurance. After a recent inspection, Howell said he hopes that rating drops to a two.

“The lower the rating, the lower the insurance rates are,” Howell said.

On the subject of emergency medical responses, Howell said there are four different levels, and the department is currently operating at the lowest level, emergency medical responders, which require no state certification.

Other levels are emergency medical technician, advanced emergency medical technician and paramedic, all of which require certification from the Arkansas Health Department.

Beginning in 2010, the department began efforts to upgrade the training of firefighters, offering state certified classes for emergency medical technicians through Southeast Arkansas College and for firefighters on duty, with a goal of having 100 percent of the department certified EMT’s. That training was paid for by the city.

Beginning in 2011, an emergency medical technician certification was required for a firefighter to be promoted, but Howell said that certification was not a condition of employment for firefighters who were already in the department.

Since June 2012, all newly hired firefighter are required to obtain EMT certification during their first year of employment, along with firefighter certifications as a condition of continued employment.

In a related matter, Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said the police department and fire department worked together as part of the re-instituted SAFE team this past weekend, checking the total occupancy of nightclubs in the Pine Bluff area.

“We’re going to have signs made listing the occupancy of the clubs and we will be enforcing that as time goes by,” Hubanks said.

The concept is an effort to avoid the possibility of multiple casualties that could result if a fire breaks out in a crowded nightclub, as has happened in the past in a number of locations across the world.

Doug Smith, a member of the Citizens Advisory on Crime, said the re-instituted SAFE team is a big change and that he believes it will be beneficial.

The team will also include representatives of the city’s Zoning and Inspection Departments.