Iowa City firefighters were busy last year, responding to about 10 percent more calls than in 2011, including 39 percent more fires, according to the department's annual report released this week.
When compared to five years ago, the Iowa City Fire Department saw a 20 percent rise in its total call volume, according to the new report. And almost 25 percent of the time, the department in 2012 was responding to multiple calls at once – up from 19.8 percent in 2011.
“It’s not uncommon for us to have multiple emergencies going on at one time,” said Iowa City Fire Department Chief Andy Rocca. “That could affect our response reliability, if we see that continue to creep up.”
The department’s response time in 2012 put two engine companies, a ladder and a battalion chief at the scene of a structure fire within 11 minutes and 41 seconds, 90 percent of the time, according to the report.
The department continues to seek ways to decrease response times to all emergencies, according to the report. This might include keeping fire apparatus in response districts or adding coverage in districts while crews conduct training drills.
Regarding actual fires, the department responded to 225 in 2012, compared with 162 in 2011, according to the report. Much of that increase was due to unattended cooking fires, Rocca said.
“We have a propensity here to fire something up and fall asleep, and then we have a ripping grease fire on the stove top or a pizza that is well-cooked in the oven,” Rocca said. “Certainly we have some work do to in terms of educating the public on the cooking-fire aspect."
The department also took 796 false alarm calls, occupying more than 250 hours of firefighters’ time, according to the report. That is up slightly from 2011, and Rocca said the department appreciates any help it can get toward reducing that total.
“We credit the (University of Iowa) for their aggressive approach on dealing with false alarms,” he said. “They charge contractors that are frequent flyers on false alarms.”
The total amount of loss due to fires in Iowa City in 2012 reached just over $4.9 million, with the costliest fire being the blaze that erupted at the Iowa City landfill last May and smoldered for months. The landfill fire, at 3900 Hebl Ave., cost more than $4 million alone.
The fire was believed to have been started after someone dropped off hot waste at the site.
Emergency medical incidents accounted for the largest number of firefighting response in 2012 – with 3,103. Department personnel spent more than 840 hours at medical emergencies or motor vehicle accidents, according to the report.
Rocca said that increase is due largely to the older population here.“We have an aging population and a lot of areas where you can get assisted and elderly housing,” he said. “As we see those populations increase, it’s not a surprise that our medical emergencies would increase as well.”