City sees increase in fire calls

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— The Steamboat Springs Fire Department had a record year for fire calls in 2000.

The increase in fire calls was so great that it exceeded what the Fire Department had projected for the year.

"Every three years, the amount of fire calls stays consistent," said Bob Struble, assistant fire chief. "But on the fourth year, we take a huge hit. Last year is when we took a hit."

For 2000, the 28-member volunteer Fire Department responded to 623 fire calls. In 1999, the department responded to 496 calls. The rise in calls is a 20 percent increase.

The Fire Department had projected fire calls for 2000 to be about 530 calls, he said.

"It was a busy year," Struble said. "The number of calls we had for 2000 is what we projected for 2001."

Struble became aware the Fire Department was going to surpass its projection for the year by the end of the summer.

"It became apparent in September that we were easily going to surpass our projection," he said.

Struble believes there are two reasons why fire calls have increased dramatically since 1988, when the department responded to 221 calls.

The first reason is the amount of tourists that are coming through the area every year.

The Fire Department every year use to prepare for the busy time of the year, which was November through March, Struble said.

"More visitors are coming to the area year-round," he said. "June, July and August are also busy months now. There is no dead time."

Development in and around Steamboat Springs is also a factor because more people are moving to the area, he said.

"Growth has been a major factor," he said.

The number of fire calls the department handled in 2000 is a concern for the 20-year veteran when he considers the department is made up of 28 volunteers.

"If you take all the calls in a year, we average 14 firefighters per call," he said. "With call volume increasing, two calls at the same time is becoming more common. We are starting to be stretched thin. We have adequate manpower for the first call, but we are thin if a second call is called in."

Struble, who became assistant fire chief in 1995, said he believes his department will be able to meet the number of fire calls for 2001, but he believes service will improve in 2002.

In that year, the city is expected to hire 10 full-time employees who will be able to respond to fire and medical calls, he said.

"The volunteer firefighters will be able to assist the full-time employees on calls," he said. "I'm hoping the full-time employees will give our volunteers a little bit of breathing room."

Struble also expects response time to improve when the full-time employees come on board.

"Currently, our volunteers have to come from home or work," he said. "That sometimes takes three to four minutes. If we have paid people in town, that will improve response time drastically."

Struble is hopeful the fire calls for 2001 do not increase as much as they did for last year.

"I think we will stay consistent," he said. "I'm hoping for a 2- to 3-percent increase.

"I think we will have between 623 and 667 calls."

Struble said he believes the number of calls the department responds to will depend on how many visitors come through the area and growth.

"If the growth pattern continues, we are going to have to build some fire stations in the district," he said.

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