Only 5 percent of what fire departments do involves a fire

A new St. Paul report shows most of the department's calls involve medical emergencies.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

When we think about what firefighters do, one thing jumps to mind. But these days fighting fires is actually only a small part of their work.

An analysis of the St. Paul Fire Department that was turned in to the city council Wednesday said what they really are is a medical response department that occasionally fights fires.

95 percent of the calls they get are about something other than a fire, while only 0.5 percent involve a structure fire, said the report by an outside consultant called Tri-Data.

And it's not like St. Paul is unusual. National numbers show the same shift is happening in fire departments around the country. While the system in place now still works pretty well, experts say plans for the future should emphasize the medical part of the job.

The St. Paul report

Tri-Data's study was actually pretty complimentary of St. Paul's fire department. They gave high marks to the personnel, the equipment, the fire stations, and response times. (Slides from their city council presentation are here.)

To keep the department working well in the future, though, they'll need to pay more attention to Emergency Medical Services, the consultant said. EMS demand is growing three to four percent per year, the study says, which is a lot faster than the city's population is growing. Looking ahead, they say medical services are likely to remain the fastest-growing part of the job.

Nationally

Tri-Data said fires lead to five percent of the calls to St. Paul's department and that's right in line with national studies.

FEMA analyzed numbers from 2014 and found just under five percent of calls were to fires.

The National Fire Prevention Agency has been studying these numbers annually since 1980, which is good for identifying trends.

Back in 1980 departments nationwide responded to nearly 3 million fires and 5 million medical aid calls. By 2015 there were fewer than half as many fires and more than four times as many calls for medical help.

Implications

Since money is limited, Tri-Data suggested in Wednesday's report that St. Paul look at shifting resources within the department from fire to medical. Fire Chief Tim Butler tells the Pioneer Press he's not excited about the idea of cutbacks on the fire suppression side of things.

Keeping up with the need for change will require some new ways of thinking, though.

A scholar writing in the journal Governinga couple years ago said the data show cities need to steer their fire departments away from fires and focus more on paramedics and ambulances.

Tri-Data's report says St. Paul's department is still "fire-centric" and notes that tradition and culture can sometimes get in the way of making changes. They even pulled out a catch phrase of consulting by asserting that a "paradigm shift" will need to occur going forward.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2020-11-27 at 6.26.50 PM

Minnesota nurse's story about her battle with COVID-19 goes viral

A month later, Ashley Walter is on a hard road to recovery.

Adam Thielen

Report: Still on COVID-19 list, Thielen not expected to play Sunday

Thielen was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list on Monday.

Image from iOS (19)

Mask-wearing, distancing a common sight on MOA's Black Friday

Thousands of shoppers were out and about on Black Friday despite the COVID-19 situation.

Tim Walz

Gov. Tim Walz, MDH react to record-setting COVID-19 deaths

Minnesota can expect further bad news over the coming weeks.

covid-19, coronavirus

Record 101 COVID-19 deaths reported in Minnesota

The figures are from Wednesday, with no update provided on Thanksgiving.

Screen Shot 2020-11-27 at 9.29.12 AM

Target reveals its 'Cyber Week' online deals

The sales will run from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5.

Minneapolis police

Mayor Frey, Minneapolis police chief reveal new 'no-knock' policy

The new policy for Minneapolis Police Department was announced Wednesday.

Teddy Bridgewater

Coller: It's a what-if Sunday with Teddy Bridgewater's return

Matthew Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for BMTN, with more of his work found at Purple Insider.

Ambulance hospital emergency

15-month-old girl's death being investigated by police in Fargo

The child died four days after being found unresponsive.

Related

More details emerging in firing of 5 St. Paul cops

A new report says the assault that led to the firing involved an ex-officer.

24 percent tax hike in St. Paul? Here's the explanation

The plan actually calls for slightly less spending

How Minnesota is helping Puerto Rico and what you can do

The National Guard's helping with communications and medical supplies

St. Paul fire department to cut rescue squad, overtime

St. Paul's fire department will cut one rescue squad next year -- leaving only two specialized groups to perform search-and-rescue and hazmat tasks. The Pioneer Press reports the department will also cut all overtime pay in order to close the gap.

St. Paul fire chief steps down following reprimand

Documents say Tim Butler retaliated against an employee.

Soccer's arrival is pushing bowling out of a St. Paul neighborhood

A St. Paul bowling alley is pushed out after 57 years

A big fire damages a historic mansion in St. Paul

Firefighters sent 10 rigs to the blaze.