Oak Harbor Fire calls decline in 2010

The numbers are in and fires in Oak Harbor appear to be on the decline.

The Oak Harbor Fire Department recently released its 2010 annual report, a document that catalogs a wide range of information, from budget details to statistics on emergency response times. This year’s crunched data revealed particularly good news.

In all, department firefighters responded to a total of 77 fires, which is a 23 percent reduction from the 100 fires that occurred in 2009. Fire Chief Mark Soptich said he was happy about the decline but that the drop is difficult to explain.

The numbers include all kinds of fires, from burning buildings and vehicles to brush fires. They were started in many different ways and without comparing each – and the causes – with the same data from the previous year, Soptich said he’d just be speculating.

Past annual reports, which are available on the city’s website, do show a wide fluctuation in the number of fires that occur each year. In 2008, the department responded to just 63 fires. The year before that, in 2007, 80 fires, and the year before that, in 2006, 78 fires.

But while the number of fires that occurred is on the decline, property damage actually increased by $24,210, from $343,750 in 2009 to $367,960 in 2010. Soptich said that statistic is more easily explained. It’s simply a matter of size and location.

A large commercial fire could inflate the number significantly while small fires could also have the opposite effect. For example, 2008 saw the lowest number of fires in the past five years – just 63 – but it saw the most property damage with $471,750 reported.

While fires usually get the most attention, they represent a small fraction of the total calls firefighters respond to. In 2010, they made up just 6 percent of department’s total 1,253 calls. That number also saw a decline from the 1,339 calls received in 2009.

The bulk of last year’s calls, 616 or 49 percent, were for emergency medical services and rescues. They include everything from skinned knees and heart attacks to car accident victims. Since 2006, they have dominated call volume with a low of 48 percent to a high of 52 percent.

The next highest volume of calls – 17 percent – were categorized as “false calls,” which are intentionally bogus reports. In all, the department responded to 210 phony incidents. Another 9 percent was attributed to “good intent” calls, which are also false but accidental in nature.

Remaining calls included those for hazardous conditions – such as an oil spill – service calls, ruptures or explosions, severe weather, and other.

For all calls, the department’s response time increased by an average of 15 seconds. In 2010, it took 4 minutes and 41 seconds from the time firefighters received the call from emergency dispatchers to the time they arrived at the location.

In 2009, the average was 4 minutes and 26 seconds and in 2008, it was 4 minutes and 23 seconds. Both are improvements over the 4-minute 41-second time of 2007, which is by coincidence the same as the 2010 average. An average for 2006 was not available.

None of the times include the 90 seconds it typically takes for a 911 call to get dispatched to the appropriate agency.

Fire department’s take their response times very seriously. They have to, said Soptich, because it’s a matter of life and death. However, without an obvious pattern of increased response times year after year, a few seconds’ change isn’t something to lose sleep over.

“Time is our enemy, no doubt about it,” Soptich said. “But 10 or 15 seconds is not a critical amount.”

The department appears to be in good standing with organizations that grade the abilities of fire protection districts. The Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau, an independent firm that does evaluations for the insurance industry, has rated the department as a class 4 organization since 1999 when it improved it from a class 5.

“For a department in a city our size, that’s saying something,” Soptich said.

The department’s performance has impressed others as well. Following a presentation on the annual report at the Oak Harbor City Council’s regular Tuesday meeting, Councilwoman Beth Munns said she was particularly impressed with firefighters’ willingness to go the extra mile.

Every year, the firefighters association voluntarily puts due money aside to buy bicycle helmets for children. They then pass them out for free at various public events. According to Munns, they gave out 150 at the 2010 military appreciation picnic.

“I really appreciate that silent, under the table, effort that the firefighters have done for the community, especially for the kids,” Munns said.




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