2018 Year in ReviewKris Parrent | January 6th, 2019
2018 was a year of growth for Community Volunteer Fire Department.
In 2018, Community Volunteer Fire Department responded to 8,853 calls (7,621 EMS and 1,232 Fire Suppression). This represents an overall 6.8% decrease in call volume from the 9,494 responses in 2017. However, when the additional calls as a result of Hurricane Harvey are excluded from the 2017 statistics, our annual call volume increased by an estimated 7.9%.
On January 1st, 2018, Chief Clark was promoted to Fire Chief and tremendous growth has followed in all aspects of our department. Chief Clark and his command staff have increased staffing levels across the department, created a tactical medic team to limit casualties in active shooter scenarios, increased our presence in the community through the creation of a community outreach division, and started initiatives for first responder health and cancer prevention. Each of these items will be further expanded on below.
Increases in Staffing
Each and every year, the population our department serves grows and it is our duty to grow with it. Our mission is to be ready for each and every call and provide the best customer service to our citizens and those who pass through our district. In response to the growth of both Harris and Fort Bend counties, we implemented the following staffing changes throughout 2018:
- A ladder truck is now regularly staffed in addition to the the three fire engines previously staffed.
- An additional ambulance has been placed in service to assist with the increase in EMS call volume.
- The number of on-duty EMS supervisors has been increased. EMS supervisors respond to critical EMS calls where the patient(s) will benefit from having additional paramedics.
- The Battalion Chief position was introduced, and all shifts have a Battalion Chief on duty. Battalion Chiefs are the shift supervisors and are responsible for running command on major incidents.
- A Special Operations division was created which is dedicated to rescue, hazardous materials, high-water, and other specialty incidents.
- The Safety Officer role was created to oversee crew safety on scene.
- The Community Outreach division was created consisting of the Public Information Officer (PIO), Community Education Coordinator, and Social Media Director. This division is responsible for public education and communications with our community.
Tactical Medic Team
Our department is leading the way in the shift in how fire departments respond to active shooter incidents. In 2018, there were at least 323 mass shootings in the United States alone where a mass shooting is defined as a shooting at a single location with four or more people injured. At least three of these were school shootings (Marshall County High School, Santa Fe High School, Stoneman Douglas High School) with a combined total of 47 injured and 29 casualties equaling 76 total wounded. Mass shootings are an unfortunate reality of the world we live in, and it is our duty to be prepared to respond in the event one were to happen in our region.
In the past, fire departments have waited outside of active shooter scenes until it is deemed safe for entry by law enforcement. Meanwhile, it may take mere minutes for a victim of a gunshot wound to succumb to their injuries. These fatalities can be reduced through rapid treatment and transportation to a trauma center. Our tactical medics have been training with the Fort Bend County Constable’s Office, Precinct 3 deputies in SWAT operations so that they can enter a scene with the SWAT team if needed. In addition, the Harris Fort Bend Emergency Services District #100 has provided our department with body armor and an armored personnel transport vehicle to protect our personnel. The armored vehicle can be used to transport our personnel and SWAT teams to the scene, and it can also be used for our medic teams to extract victims from the scene while gunfire is still active.
Firefighter Health and Cancer Prevention
Firefighting is an inherently risky but necessary calling and each year we lose members in the line of duty. However, there are many other occupational hazards of the job which need further attention. Firefighters have an elevated risk of cancer from exposure to carcinogens in smoke and chemicals. First responders are also at high risk for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the difficult scenes we are called to for help. We will describe the steps our department has taken to reduce these occupational hazards below.
Physical Health and Cancer Prevention
- Each firefighter now has two sets of bunker gear (what they wear into fires). Previously, our department and many others across the nation, only had a single set of bunker gear assigned to each firefighter. After a fire, the gear has absorbed carcinogens and needs to be thoroughly washed to remove the elements from the gear. However, washing them requires disassembling the gear, putting it through an extractor (special washing machine) and allowing it to dry. This process takes many hours which made it impossible for firefighters to wash their gear after a fire until the end of the shift. This means extended exposure to carcinogens and a higher risk of disease. The second set of bunker gear will allow firefighters to begin immediately washing the soiled gear by replacing it with the second set.
- Each fire station now has an extractor to wash the gear and remove the carcinogens. This is a specialized machine which does a much better job on our gear than a standard washing machine.
- Bunker gear will now be sent out and professionally cleaned multiple times per year to fully remove any carcinogens or biohazards.
- Each station has a separate washing machine for duty clothes. Previously, the same machines were being used to clean duty clothes as bunker gear which had a risk of contaminating the duty uniforms.
- We have partnered with Lifescan Wellness for health and physical testing of our personnel. Lifescan Wellness will perform blood draws and ultrasound scans annually on our personnel in an effort to identify and treat any disease or illness which may be present. The physical testing will ensure our personnel are all physically ready for duty, ensure their safety, and encourage overall physical fitness.
Mental Health and PTSD
- Our department has partnered with the Emergency Chaplain Group to make chaplains available to all of our responders 24/7. The Emergency Chaplain Group is unique in that all of its chaplains are current or former first responders which better equips them understand the difficulties experienced by our personnel. The chaplains are available to respond directly to scenes, our stations, or even meet outside of the department to assist our personnel.