SANTA ANA (CBS) — “Where did all the ‘fires’ go?”

KNX 1070’s Ron Kilgore reports that’s the question posed by the 2011-2012 Orange County Grand Jury after a new report found very few of calls made to the county fire department are for actual fires.

The report released Thursday found less than 2 percent of emergency calls are fire-related, as opposed to an overwhelming 70 percent that are medical emergency calls, with some city departments reporting that number to be as high as 80 percent.

As many as 134,000 of the 180,000 incidents reported in Orange County in 2010 — 76 percent — were for medical emergencies, while 44,000 were for fires and other emergencies including “ruptures, hazmat, service calls, good intent, false alarms and natural disasters”.

The grand jury attributed the seismic shift in protocol to the emergence of the 911 emergency system.

“Fire departments that once primarily responded to calls for fire emergencies now have become emergency medical response departments primarily responding to medical emergencies,” the grand jury wrote. “This evolution has occurred since the onset of ‘9-1-1’ call where all emergency calls are received at one place.

The report also emphasized the role of lingering economic challenges as the department struggles to absorb providing services that were once traditionally handled by multiple agencies.

“A problem that faces all of these agencies is financial,” the grand jury wrote. “The labor agreements adopted in good times have become financial burdens during the recent business downturn.”

It also notes the plight of local labor unions who have warned they face “an increasing demand for services with fewer personnel while competing for limited funding resources” and that “unscrupulous private vendors” have stepped in to “profit from current financial difficulties”.

Professor Fred Smoller of Brandman University in Irvine told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the numbers may not be as surprising when one considers that fire engines with full crews are sent to all emergencies.

“There’s going to have to be reexamination of just how many people we send and how much equipment we send,” said Smoller. “It’s like sending a surgeon to tend to every bite that a child might receive from a dog.”

The report recommended that all city fire departments should join the Orange County Fire Authority to reevaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their models and work to form a unified response department that would separate fire and medical emergencies.


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