Monthly Hornell ambulance call volume reaching all-time high
One siren you might hear later on this month will set a record.
As of Thursday, Hornell firefighters have gone on 181 ambulance calls this month, an average of 10.6 calls per day.
“It's forecasted to do nothing but increase,” Hornell Fire Chief Dan Smith said, adding an aging population is increasing demand for ambulance services.
Smith and others in the department said the aging population will keep his department working at a faster pace.
With the volume of calls, Smith said the department is poised to break the monthly record of 324 calls, set in January of 2007.
Call volume has been high for a while, he said, and there are only small peaks in call volume.
“January and August are the busiest months,” Smith said, “but it's only marginally busier.”
“The kinds of calls you get also change through the year,” said Michael Sprague, director of the Steuben County Office of Emergency Services, who was in Hornell to meet with Smith Thursday. “In the summer, you get more outdoors calls than normal.”
Sprague added there are more car accidents in January, as well as being in the middle of flu season, both of which contribute to call volume.
Over the years, however, the number of calls has increased dramatically.
In January of 1997, Smith said Hornell firefighters went on 160 ambulance calls, less than half the number of calls crews are handling now. The level of care given by the department also has increased greatly in that time, with Advanced Life Support service, and cross-training between fire and ambulance crews.
“When I first got here, we would send one guy in the ambulance,” Smith said. “At the scene, they would meet up with police at the residence and the police would drive with our guy in the back of the ambulance.
“Now, by the time the ambulance gets to the hospital, blood is already drawn, the heart rhythm is figured out, and there is this huge flow of information to the ER doctors that helps save lives.”
Hornell firefighter Frank Brzozowski said since he joined the department in 1992, the difference in the level of care has increased dramatically.
“I went to a state conference this year and the speaker asked us some questions so he could get a feel for the room,” he said.
As the speaker asked the crowd of around 500 ambulance crew members about more advanced levels of care, he said, fewer and fewer hands were raised.
“By the time he was done, my hand was still up, and there were only a few others in the whole room,” he said. “That made me feel really good about the level of care we provide.”
With the high call volume, it can make for some stressful situations for the crews.
At one point Thursday afternoon, two ambulances and a fire truck were out on calls, leaving Smith to answer the phones and radio.
“It happens sometimes,” Smith said, adding the cross-training between fire and ambulance personnel is important for getting the job done, but high call volume still presents a challenge.
“It takes some thought by the captains to manage it sometimes,” he added.
With more calls and more advanced care, the only thing that has not changed, according to Smith, is the size of the department's staff.
The fire department has the same size staff - 23 full-time employees - as it did 11 years ago when call volume was half of what it is now.
Having more firefighters on the staff would be ideal, Smith said, but costs need to be considered.
“We'd always like to see that,” he said. “The city is very public-safety conscious, but they are tempered by cost.
“We didn't have to go to the more advanced level of care,” Smith added, saying it was a choice by the city to spend the extra money to get the ambulance crews advanced training and better equipment.
Smith added he is proud of the way his firefighters are handling the volume.
“The more you do it, the better you get at it,” he said. “It's routine, but they still have good bedside manner. They don't let it ratchet them up.”