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Firefighters answer the calls

County departments respond to record number of runs in 2021

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Howland firefighter / paramedic Anthony Fairbanks, left, directs firefighter / paramedic Jeremy Bahen as he backs up a firetruck Thursday at the main Howland fire station after the truck responded to a call.

HOWLAND — Trumbull County’s busiest fire department responded to a record-number 4,077 calls in 2021, according to Howland fire Chief James Pantalone — but that was the case for most stations in the county, he said.

“This (past) year has probably been the worst for all of the departments in Trumbull County. We had to come together and really help each other out,” Pantalone said.

The Champion Fire Department, which in 2021 responded to the fourth-highest number of calls out of county stations at 2,367, also broke a record this year, according to a Facebook post from that department.

Statistics from fire departments across the county show a noticeable rise in calls from 2020 to 2021.

Liberty and Niles, the second- and third-busiest stations last year, respectively responded to 275 and 300 more calls in 2021 than the year before.

“We’ve been on a steady increase in calls for years,” Cortland fire Chief David Rea said. His department, ranked fifth for most responses last year, took 2,227 calls, up 271 from the year before. “Every once in a while, our calls dip a little bit, but that’s generally an anomaly when they go down for a year — and it’s only (by) 10 or 20 (calls).”

Rea said the reason for the sustained increase in calls can’t be explained by just one factor. Areas such as Cortland and Howland saw population increases in the 1990s and early 2000s as people moved to suburbs, which drove up call numbers. Now, the entire county also is contending with an aging population.

Plus, last year’s call numbers were affected by the pandemic.

PANDEMIC

“Trumbull County got hit by COVID,” Rea said. “We had a couple spikes, but this last November, December were very impactful in this area.”

Rea said before the pandemic, the Cortland Fire Department averaged five to seven calls per day. During the latest two spikes, calls nearly doubled.

In 2020, the pandemic also had an impact on call volume — many departments handled slightly fewer calls that year than in 2019, but that was with businesses and schools shut down for more than a month.

In Howland, calls dipped by 138 from 2019 to 2020, Pantalone said.

“Our call volume took a nose dive when everything shut down. We were going days without a call or (with) just one,” Pantalone said. “To actually land within 138 calls of the previous year with almost a month and a half, two months shut down is pretty crazy.”

Pantalone said in recent years the department has handled a high number of patient-assistance calls as more seniors are treated at home by family members instead of going into facilities.

On top of increased calls, firefighters were not immune to COVID-19. Pantalone said at one point, he had seven staff members out sick. While those staff members were spread out over multiple shifts, that still meant close to one-third of the department was out.

“But we kept all three stations open,” Pantalone said, referring to Howland’s main station, the Morgandale station and the Bolindale station, which was reopened in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic.

EMS

Statistics also show across the board, area departments handled significantly more emergency medical services calls than any other types of service calls — which is typical, Rea and Pantalone both said.

“Any department that runs EMS, the bulk of their calls are going to be EMS,” Rea said.

A graph from the Howland Fire Department shows EMS comprises 75 percent of its calls, although Pantalone said EMS really accounts for closer to 85 percent when other good intent and service calls that involve emergency medical are factored in.

Champion reported 2,154 of the fire department’s 2,367 total call responses were for emergency medical services. In Warren Township, 1,027 of 1,246 call responses were EMS, and in Niles 2,498 calls of 2,984 were rescue or EMS.

In Weathersfield, 1,119 of its 1,528 calls in 2021 were for emergency medical services. As the 10th-busiest station, the unmanned, volunteer department “had to step up” 1,538 times, Weathersfield fire Chief Tom Lambert said.

“(Calls) are increased. A lot of it is medical calls. A lot of it is obviously COVID has raised that number. Being a volunteer department, I’m glad we were able to have the staffing (to handle it),” Lambert said. “It makes me proud of our guys that they care enough to still do this. There’s not a lot of volunteers out there.”

Lambert works at a private EMT provider in the area and said the area’s private emergency medical services have been taxed over the past year, too, especially as hospital wait times have increased, tying up ambulances waiting to offload patients.

UP, UP AND UP

While EMS and specifically COVID-19-related calls drove rising call volume in many departments, some departments that do not run EMS unless asked for aid — such as Warren city’s fire department — also saw an increase in calls in 2021.

Last year had “the most calls” fire Chief Ken Nussle can recall in recent years — 1,545. That is about 100 more than the high end of the department’s average yearly calls, which Nussle said is between 1,300 and 1,450.

The county’s largest department, Warren city, has come in ninth for call volume for the past three years, statistics show. The majority of calls it handles are structure fires, car fires and motor vehicle accidents.

Nussle couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for what amounted to roughly one extra call every three days, but said: “They call, we’re going to respond.”

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