2012-08-17 / Community

Cape becomes more efficient in fire calls

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Fire Department has seen a significant increase in emergency medical service calls in 2012 compared to last year, yet the average response time of the ambulances sent out has been almost cut in half.

That, Cape Elizabeth Fire Chief Peter Gleeson said, is largely because of emergency response providers now working at the department during daytime hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., who are paid on a per-diem basis.

The town council chose to approve these per-diem workers last fall, allocating $76,934 from the rescue’s special revenue fund, according to the town’s website.

Gleeson said the per-diem program has been very successful through the first half of 2012 because it has both helped the fire department respond more quickly and decreased Cape Elizabeth’s reliance on services from neighboring towns.

“In the past, we had been relying on a small core of members to cover our daytime calls and often found ourselves utilizing mutual aid more frequently, especially when these individuals were not available to respond. Additionally, lengthy response times were a subject of concern for many,” Gleeson wrote in a memo he presented to the town council in a meeting Monday, Aug. 13.

The Cape Elizabeth Fire Department requested an ambulance to respond to an EMS call 12 times in 2011, and the town was called for assistance by another town seven times.

This year, that trend has reversed. The department requested an out-of-town ambulance just four times through June 30, and received seven calls from other communities.

The program has been especially important in 2012, Gleeson said, because of the unexpected increase in calls. The fire department received 492 emergency calls in 2011, according to Gleeson’s report, and 310 in the first six months of 2012. That amounts to an increase of nearly one extra call every two days.

“I don’t have any reason to explain that, it’s just been very busy. In January, for example, we usually did about 25 calls and we had 55 this January,” Gleeson told the council. “There’s no rhyme or reason why, but we’re averaging almost two rescue calls per day.”

The new per-diem position is not actually staffed by one responder, but by many of the department’s existing volunteer staff. Nine have signed up for positions so far this year and, although every member of his staff has another job, Gleeson said no shift has gone uncovered.

“We didn’t really hire outsiders,” said Town Manager Mike McGovern. “We hired existing people affiliated with the rescue unit.”

Gleeson said that is a big reason for the success of the unit. Since the per-diem responders were all involved in emergency response in Cape Elizabeth before, they all “knew the other members and worked well within the program.”

“Overall, I think it’s been a great program and it has certainly addressed the concerns that I had and the volunteers had,” Gleeson said.

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