Fire department aims to expand volunteer program - East Valley Tribune: News

Fire department aims to expand volunteer program

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Posted: Saturday, September 6, 2008 6:26 pm | Updated: 11:56 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Mesa fire officials want to expand the city's volunteer program to help with nonemergency calls for service, leaving more firefighters available for serious incidents.

Firefighter response times have increased by 30 seconds over the past three years and, with no new fire stations planned, officials want to find a way to maintain good service, said Deputy Chief Mike Dunn, Mesa Fire Department spokesman.

Officials discussed the idea at a public safety committee meeting just over a week ago. And the city is currently trying to figure out a way to make it work.

"What we're trying to do is looking at a way to utilize volunteers to take lower-level service calls," Dunn said. "Old smoke alarm batteries, leaky fire hydrants ... typically we sent a four-person engine company on."

While nonemergency calls accounted for only about 5,000 to 6,000 of last year's 50,000 calls, Dunn said there is a need to help people, but still keep firefighters available for emergencies.

For example, if someone calls 911 to report their smoke alarm battery is dead, a firetruck with four firefighters would traditionally respond. The volunteers would be able to provide this community service instead.

"There are (sometimes) calls from people who are just lonely ... they don't know who to call, so they call the fire department, so we respond out there," Dunn said.

Mesa Fire Department currently has what is called a "connector program" with 150 volunteers.The job of the connectors is to fill a customer service role at fire scenes, helping people get in touch with social service agencies such as the Red Cross.

Officials said that the program has been successful, but it's time to do more.

One obstacle, Dunn said, is figuring out a way to offer training for police and fire dispatchers, because sending volunteers to nonemergency calls would mean that operators would need to dispatch them differently.

Training and other kinks still need to be worked out before the program can be implemented.

"This is a really great thing which could not just help alleviate the big demand on the city services, but get the community involved with city services," said Mesa Councilwoman Dina Higgins.

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