There were only six structure fires in all of 2018 – a 45-percent reduction, according to an annual report from the Tullahoma Fire Department (TFD).

TFD presented its annual report to the Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen during the board’s Monday, Jan. 28, meeting.

The report is a comprehensive look at all the goings-on of the department each year, including a breakdown of all the calls responded to during the year, a description of the general duties and responsibilities of each Tullahoma Firefighter and an overview of the training each member of TFD receives.

According to the report, TFD only battled six total structure fires for the whole year, down from 11 structure fires in 2017.

Data going back to 2013 shows the department has seen no more than 11 structure fires in any of the last six years, a number Fire Chief Richard Shasteen says was a credit to all the work his department does in the area of fire prevention.

“We were thrilled with that, and we feel like that is due to our thorough fire prevention program,” he said. “It takes a lot of work for a department our size.”

The department regularly visits schools and attends community events with information on how best to prevent fires in homes or businesses and Shasteen said having the information in the hands of people in the community was definitely a contributing factor in the reduced number of fires last year.

The department even gives out and installs free smoke detectors in homes within the city limits for anyone who wants one, Shasteen said.

“We feel like that has made a huge impact our structure fires,” he added.

 

Response call breakdown

Including the six structure fire calls, TFD answered a total of 1,697 calls during 2018. That total includes myriad situations, from car accidents, illegal burn responses and brush and trash fires to hazardous materials calls and medical assistance calls.

The largest number of calls TFD received were for medical assistance – a total of 1,039 calls, or 61 percent of all calls.

Compared to 2017, the number of medical calls rose by 59 percent. Shasteen said the dramatic increase in medical responses was due to a change in the criteria for TFD response on medical calls.

“We updated our response criteria to include shortness of breath, chest pain, stroke [and] symptoms of a stroke,” Shasteen said.

While the department has always responded to certain medical calls along with the ambulance service, Shasteen said there were getting to be a number of calls that quickly turned into life-threatening emergencies.

“A lot of times those calls came in as short of breath, and by the time the ambulance got there, somebody had stopped breathing,” Shasteen said.

In order to better help the people making those calls, he said, TFD worked with Emergency Medical Service Chief Michael Bonner in order to add to the list of medical calls TFD would respond to.

“We felt we could benefit the victims by responding,” Shasteen said.

The department even purchased smaller vehicles that could be used exclusively for medical assistance calls in order to lessen the wear and tear on the fire engines.

Two-person teams can use a smaller SUV or truck with four-wheel-drive for medical calls, leaving other crews and fire engines on standby for any fire calls that may occur later.

“That’s what we’re here for, is to help people,” Shasteen said.

The rest of the calls listed in the breakdown include 18 brush or trash fires, 35 hazmat calls, 71 illegal burns, 138 fire alarms, 136 car accidents with injuries and 199 other uncategorized calls.

When asked what “other calls” were made of, Shasteen said they were mostly calls about suspicious smells or calls of smoke in the area.

“Basically,” Shasteen said, they were “investigation type” calls where the department might have to figure out what’s happening.

“Somebody smells something in their house and they don’t know what it is,” he said. “Might be a gas leak.”

Any of the “other calls” could turn into one of the other categories, Shasteen said, but if they don’t come in as a specific category call, they get placed as “other.”

 

Increased fire alarms

Other than medical assistance responses, the largest number of calls came in form of fire alarms. The 138 total fire alarm calls only saw a slight increase from 2017 – just six more in 2018 – but Shasteen said he was encouraged that there were so many.

Some of the fire alarm calls were actually fires, he said, but they came in as fire alarms going off. Other fire alarm calls include false alarms or faulty detectors as well as cooking mishaps.

The department “always recommends” people get smoke detectors and fire alarms in their homes no matter where they live, he said, as they can help prevent larger catastrophes when people may not be at home.

While a number of structures require the installation of fire alarms, such as apartment complexes and commercial buildings, Shasteen said the department is always there to remind homeowners to get fire alarms installed.

For information on getting a free smoke detector, contact the Tullahoma Fire Department at 455-0936.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.