Calls for fire service on the rise

Totals through first two months of 2022 at an all-time high

A firefighter extinguishes a blaze in May 2021 in Steamboat Springs. Calls for fire and emergency services have sharply risen in the past year and have been rising steadily since 2017.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Firefighters and EMS workers in Routt County received a large number of calls in February, and year-to-date totals in 2022 are on pace to break records.

“The winter season of 2021 is when it really started picking up again,” Steamboat Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli said.

According to the fire department, there were 100 calls about fires in February 2022, up 53.8% from the 65 calls received in the same month in 2021. There were 189 calls for emergency medical services in February 2022, up 36% from the 139 calls received in February 2021.

The overall trend over the past five years charts a steady increase in call frequency followed by a sharp dip in 2020-21, then a recent surge.

Nearby communities have seen similar dips in call volume in 2020-21 due to the pandemic, but dry weather and an influx of tourism in Steamboat Springs have helped push the frequency of calls for fire and emergency services higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The Steamboat Springs fire department frequently presents year-over-year and monthly comparisons to city council. According to the most recent report, fire service calls in February 2022 (100) were up 67% compared to the 60 calls received in February 2017.

EMS calls received in February 2022 (189) were up 26.85% compared to the 149 calls received in February 2017.

The year-to-date totals also illustrate an increase in frequency of service calls over the last few years.

Through the end of February of this year, there have been 574 total calls including 204 fire calls and 370 EMS calls. The 574 calls set an all-time high mark for the first two months of the year, and were up 31.4% compared to the same time frame in 2021 (437).

As for a five-year comparison, total calls for fire and EMS through the first two months of 2022 (574) were up 21.35% compared to the 473 calls received during the same time period in 2017.

“I think the biggest thing is, you know, we’re seeing a record amount of people in town, and with that, statistically emergencies will go up, calls for emergencies will go up,” Cerasoli said.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue is responsible for fires and medical emergencies within the 10 square miles encompassed in city limits. However, through an intergovernmental agreement, the department is also responsible for a large of swath of the surrounding area.

“That intergovernmental agreement basically says, ‘This fire department, the city fire department, will protect all of your homes and areas for fire and emergency services in exchange for cost-sharing, basically.’ And so, our district is actually 380 square miles,” Cerasoli said.

To handle the increasing workload, Cerasoli and his department created a five-year plan that involves hiring and training new staff, and putting a fire engine in the downtown district.

“Right now, we have only two people downtown that respond on an ambulance,” Cerasoli said. “So that means that if there’s a fire or an event that requires a fire engine in the downtown area or west of town, the engine that’s responding to that emergency is coming from the mountain fire station. So as you know, that could add five to 10 minutes or more to the response time.”

While the Steamboat Springs Police Department is currently understaffed, the fire department is close to filling all its vacancies. The fire department tries to have at least eight people on-duty at all times with additional staff on-call.

Five new recruits are currently going through training.

“Yeah, as soon as we get these recruits up and trained, we’ll have nine firefighters that are on 24/7,” Cerasoli said.

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