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Fire-related calls at CCFD comparable to last year

Fire-related calls at CCFD comparable to last year
Eric Whipple has been Charles City Fire Chief since 2012 and employed with the Fire Department since January of 2003. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra
By Kelly Terpstra,

The numbers mirror last year’s totals for the Charles City Fire Department.

For Charles City Fire Chief Eric Whipple and his department, that’s generally considered a good thing.

It means his full-time staff of four and the 25 volunteers are helping get the word out so that citizens remember to take precautions that can prevent fires.

“We haven’t had any what I would consider, thankfully, earth-shattering fires this last year,” said Whipple. “I credit that to a lot of people paying more attention to fire prevention.”

Whipple, Charles City’s fire chief since 2012, said end-of-the-year statistics line up with state and national averages for a department his size.

“Generally speaking, between 60 and 70 percent of all fire department’s calls across the state of Iowa, anway, and really probably the nation, are related to medical or EMS,” said Whipple.

The CCFD is not a transport service, but has a working arrangement and contract with AMR (American Medical Response) to respond to non-fire related calls.

Charles City Assistant Fire Chief Marty Parcher is one of two paramedics on staff for AMR. AMR has provided ambulance service within the city limits and the surrounding St. Charles Township for more than 20 years.

Whipple said there were 659 calls for service to the Fire Department in 2019. That number was down a tad from 684 in 2018. Of all those service calls last year, more than 70% — 463 — were EMS (emergency medical service) calls.

There were 196 fire-related calls and 29 working fire calls. Three of those were vehicle fires.

Whipple said fire-related calls can include carbon monoxide investigations, illegal burning and structure fires.

The estimated property loss caused by those fires totaled $193,000 last year. There was $270,000 worth of property damage caused by fire in 2018, according to the Fire Department’s estimates.

Whipple said education, especially targeted at youth, helps everyone in the community build good habits that can prove beneficial in preventing accidental fires.

“There’s always the initiative that we have that we would rather prevent fires or help people prevent fires than to actually respond to fires,” he said.

Whipple said teaching elementary school students – preschool to 4th grade – allows them to understand the dangers of fire and how to take the proper steps to react to a fire should they encounter one. Whipple and his staff, especially in October during Fire Prevention Month, will teach hundreds of kids about the dangers of fire either at the fire station during tours or by travelling to the students’ school.

“You don’t always know there’s a problem. You can talk about fire prevention all you want but there’s going to be situations where things just happen, too,” said Whipple.

Whipple said the two biggest causes of fires are cooking related and electrical problems.

“It doesn’t really matter the age of home,” he said about electrical fires.

“Obviously older homes probably are more susceptible to electrical problems. We’ve had issues with newer homes that something’s just not quite right. It’s one of those things that just happens. There’s no real rhyme or reason,” he said.

“One of the biggest no-no’s is that people connect the power cord of a space heater to an extension cord and then plug it into the wall or even a power strip. … It overloads either the extension cord or the power strip and that’s what causes the fire,” said Whipple. “If you can plug it directly into the wall, that’s the best way to power a space heater.”

Powering up cell phones and laptops need to be watched closely as well.

“Anything that is powered obviously by electricity has the opportunity to be an issue,” said Whipple.

Taking proper care of wood-burning fireplaces is also essential.

Whipple said his volunteer staff numbers are down a little this year because of retirement and some firefighters moving out of the area.

Charles City volunteer firefighter John Carpenter died in September after being involved in a motorcycle accident a month earlier.

“Volunteers are getting harder and harder to find,” said Whipple. “I encourage anybody that’s interested in becoming a volunteer to stop by the station and pick up an application. When we get close to the testing time, I’ll make sure to give everybody a call that’s interested.”

Whipple said the department’s main fundraiser – the pancake breakfast put on by firefighter volunteers – went well.

“They use that money on some things that they feel is necessary for the work that they do,” he said.

Whipple said the current one-year contract with AMR and the city ends June 30.

“That’s still being negotiated for the next year,” he said.

“It affects not only the city government, it affects the citizens of Charles City and the county and those that are needing to be transported out of our hospital to another facility for specialized treatment,” said Whipple. “It’s complicated. There’s a lot of different moving parts.”

Whipple said the busiest month in terms of calls for service was July and the least busy was May. The busiest structure fire months were July and December. He said the busiest days of the week for calls for service land on Monday, Thursday and Friday. The busiest time frame is 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. The least busy occurs from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.

The Fire Department’s response time inside its jurisdiction is less than five minutes on 80 percent of all service calls. In the city response time is a little over three minutes and outside the city it’s seven minutes.

Charles City Fire Department annual report on calls
2019 2018
Service Calls 659 684
EMS Calls 463 479
Fire-related calls 196 205
Woking fire calls 29 21
*CCFD’s estimated fire damage in 2019 totaled $193,000 in total property loss compared to $270,000 in 2018.