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Bellyache, fevers among fire calls

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By Cindy Simpson

Rockwood Fire Department personnel have responded to calls for assistance and ended up doing menial chores like checking the mail.
A growing number of first-responder calls like that have officials worried that emergency resources are being wasted. They are evaluating what calls they should respond to.
“We’ve had some issues here in the past, but they really got really bad here lately,” Rockwood Assistant Fire Chief Matt Crabtree said. “We are being dispatched to a lot of calls that don’t necessarily require our services.”
He hastily added, “I’m not saying we aren’t here to help.”
Crabtree said some of the calls they are responding to include complaints of nausea, fever and general sickness.
First-responder calls in Rockwood are rated on a three-level priority system. Crabtree said priority 1 calls are dire emergencies, such as a cardiac incident, possible stroke or difficulty breathing.
Priority 2 and 3 calls cover categories like nausea, fever and general pain.
“This is stuff you should not even be called for,” opined Councilwoman Peggy Evans.
The calls also potentially waste city tax dollars. On-duty firefighters are not paid from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., unless they are called out.
If they are called out during that downtime, the city pays $80 in wages for the first hour, Crabtree said.
Crabtree asked Rockwood City Council last week to consider changing city policies to require the fire department to respond only to priority 1 emergency dispatches.
The city agreement with Roane County E-911 does not require them to go out to priority 2 and 3 calls, he said.
Rockwood City Attorney Greg Leffew encouraged council members to adopt a policy in writing.
“If you are not going to respond to priority 2 and 3, it is my recommendation to have a policy in effect that states that,” Leffew said.
Rockwood Fire Department has also seen an increase in lift-assist calls.
At least one firefighter has been injured responding to such calls, in which personnel are asked to a home or medical facility to help lift an individual.
“I know for a fact we’ve had people hurt that chose not to report it,” Crabtree added.
Crabtree said fire departments are dispatched to such public-assist calls quite often.
“One location we respond to quite frequently in spurts,” Crabtree said.
City officials are pondering whether to eliminate or charge a fee for such public-assist calls, namely if the call comes from a for-profit entity like a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
A few families have young men who could assist in lifting, but Crabtree said they prefer to call the fire department rather than tackling it themselves.
Crabtree said he feels it is an insult to his men and department when he hears someone say they called the fire department so they did not have to do it.
There have even been some calls where an individual ends up asking fire personnel to check their mail.
Another time, they were called to a business where the elderly are cared for to assist getting the man to a standing position so the staff could clean him.
Councilman Mike Freeman said it sounds like the city needs to do some public relations to explain what the fire department’s services are.
“We are not here to hold a patient up while you clean them up,” he said.