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Fire departments seeing historic level of calls for service due to rise in elderly medical emergencies

The Grafton and Racine fire departments say the biggest reason behind the spike is an aging population in need of assistance during medical emergencies.
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Posted at 5:15 PM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 19:20:00-05

GRAFTON, Wis. — Local fire departments large and small responded to a historic amount of calls for service in 2022.

The Grafton and Racine fire departments say the biggest reason behind the spike is an aging population in need of assistance during medical emergencies.

The Grafton Fire Department serves a community of 16,000 people in Ozaukee County. While its population has held fairly steady, its calls for service have skyrocketed over the years.

"This system is broken,” said Fire Chief Bill Rice. "You can't rely on just one person a day or two people a day to keep taking these calls."

Chief Rice says his crews responded to more than 2,100 calls for service last year. That’s more than double the amount from just a decade ago.

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“What is the main type of call that is driving that increase?” TMJ4’s Ben Jordan asked. "It is a little bit of everything but clearly, calls for service to elderly communities, assisted living, places like that large and small have a big impact on us."

The Grafton Fire Department has eight full-time members on the force. The rest are paid on-call employees who come as needed.

"The more calls that come in, the more we rely on our paid on-call force,” Chief Rice said.

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“Does a record year of calls for service create a problem for your department?” Jordan asked. “It does, we have to be aware of this increase,” Chief Rice replied. “It's going to continue. There's not going to be fewer calls in the future."

The massive increase in calls for service isn’t just happening in smaller communities like Grafton. Racine’s fire department says it’s dealing with the same issue as well.

“On Sunday, January 1, we had 53 emergency calls for service and 48 of them were for EMS calls,” Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen said. “That's just on one day."

Chief Hansen says 2022 was also its busiest year in the history of the Racine Fire Department. He noted that 85 percent of their responses were for medical calls.

"The biggest driver of calls for service are our aging population primarily,” he said. “Our baby boomers are starting to come of age. Everything from stubbing your toe to heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure, and traumatic injuries from motor vehicle accidents.”

Chief Hansen says crews have been forced to do more with fewer firefighters. Meanwhile, the city no longer has a private ambulance company to assist.

“What’s the solution to this problem?” Jordan asked. "The solution is more staffing,” Chief Hansen replied. “I hate to say it, but it's more staffing."

Both Racine and Grafton fire chiefs say funding woes are preventing adequate resources. Chief Hansen says without the state offering more help to fire departments through shared revenue, local referendums may be the only way to keep up with the increased need for critical services.

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