‘Stacking’ emergency calls necessary with limited personnel, equipment

Participants rush the dummy into the ambulance as if it were a real patient at Hagevig Fire Training Center. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

Non-firefighters participating in a recent introduction to EMT training rush a training dummy into an ambulance as if it were a real patient at Juneau’s Hagevig Fire Training Center. (File photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

Juneau firefighters say it took about five minutes for them to arrive at the scene of last week’s fire on Lemon Creek Road. Doris Jean Emanoff, 56, died after Friday afternoon’s fire at her trailer.

Usually, it takes less than a minute-and-a-half for the 911 dispatcher to process and prioritize a typical emergency call. Firefighters must have their protective clothing on and be out of the station within a minute, and try to be at the scene within six minutes.

But what if the emergency is located far from a staffed station? Maybe the incident or emergency is in Lemon Creek, way out Glacier Highway, or out North Douglas near Eaglecrest Ski Area. And what if several calls come in simultaneously?

As of February, Capital City Fire/Rescue only had 18 paid personnel on staff. The department says they need 44 personnel to operate all of their apparatus or vehicles (except ambulances) at all five stations. There are 70 volunteers on the roster, but their skills and availability may vary widely.

Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge said emergency calls are rarely spread out over the course of a day. He said firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT) sometimes see flurries of incidents in clusters. That’s why they use the practice of ‘stacking’ to prioritize emergency calls while operating a department with limited resources.

Calls for service for minor injuries or non-life threatening incidents would have a lower priority than a structure fire, for example.

It’s really hard to pull people off of a life safety event or off a structure fire when we’re already a little bit short-staffed and (then) send them to somebody with shampoo in their eye.”

Etheridge said they regularly see abuse or misuse of the 911 system.

Related stories:
Working A Day In Their Boots: Part 5 – Emergency Medical Technician Call
Firefighters stretched while responding to Lemon Creek emergencies

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