Roanoke Fire-EMS responds to record number of calls in 2022

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 10:33 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke Fire-EMS presented its annual report to City Council Monday morning. With it brought 32,427 incidents in 2022, which is the highest in the organization’s history.

“This year was the busiest year we’ve ever experienced in the history of our organization over 32,000 runs. Fire calls were up over 12%, EMS calls are almost up by 5%,” said Chief David Hoback.

The continued demand for emergency services has grown for Roanoke Fire-EMS, which has impacted travel time.

“We look at structure fires out the door to front of the property, four minutes or less 90% of the time, we did meet that this year. However, trying to get all the apparatus there for the first alarm assignment, which is three engines and two ladders, we were off by a percent. Because we had 7 second alarm fires, one third alarm fire, we had some significant fires, those were only missed by maybe 45 seconds each time, it really wasn’t a huge difference. But you just got to expect some of that, especially when you have that increase in volume that you’re dealing with. Same thing for the EMS side our critical incidents we’re up this year. So we didn’t meet our benchmarks, we were down a couple of percent.”

Hoback said they are working to meet the challenge. Starting by studying where calls are coming from and where they can strategically place new vehicles to respond.

“We are getting a new ambulance down at the Mecca station down on 460, station 14, that will help enhance some things in that area that will get infused capacity into our system so we’re not stressed.”

A returning issue for the department is staffing.

“This whole year, we worked in a negative staffing profile, we were 28/29 people down in the field. We’re just now starting to get some of that infusion back but with the new people come new challenges because 50 to 60% of our people have less than five years tenure. So we really got to start growing our workforce, maturing theming, training them and setting them up for the succession that we’re going to need them to be in as they grow to be officers in the future.”

With time of the essence, Roanoke Fire-EMS and emergency organizations in the region are looking at ways speed up the hiring process.

“In looking at our physical abilities test, we know the one that we had before, it took eight weeks before we could even make an offer and we were losing people in eight weeks. So we’ve now through regionally both Roanoke County, Salem, all decided that we’re going to go to a different system. ...We got the station two construction project, we took down the Budget Inn on Williamson Road and we’re going to start the a and e work on that. And then we just got a lot of things that we’re going to start looking at as redefining our business model.”

Hoback said addressing all these challenges is a three to five year process.

“What may have worked five years ago, it’s not working in today’s environment. And we’ve got to be mindful that everything from how we train people to how we recruit people to how we bring people up in the organization, all that’s going to be looked at and take organizations input. It’s the men and women down here at the station level that really have that type of knowledge, take their input and then figure out what the right direction is.”