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Wheeling Fire Department Sees Its Busiest Year Ever

Photo by Shelley Hanson - Wheeling Fire Department Chief Jim Blazier works in his office on Thursday.

WHEELING — The Wheeling Fire Department responded to 7,849 calls for service during 2021, according to statistics released Thursday, which the department said was the busiest year on record.

Medical calls accounted for 68% of the total, the department said. The WFD responded to 5,313 medical calls last year, an increase of 20% compared to 2020.

Fire Chief Jim Blazier attributed the increase to people being infected with COVID-19 and needing assistance, along with the city’s population aging and needing more medical help in general. He also noted there were more vehicle crashes that resulted in people needing emergency medical help.

“Medical-related emergencies have been on the uptick for the last decade, but 2021 recorded the highest call volume to date,” Blazier said. “I applaud our fire personnel, paramedics and EMTs who go on multiple ambulance and emergency runs a day to aid those needing our assistance.”

Blazier added that drug overdose calls had decreased.

“Drug overdoses are down somewhat from before, but we’re still seeing them,” he said. “It has been trending down.”

The department responded to 86 fires. Under the category of “overpressure/explosion/overheat” that did not involve a fire, the department had 35 calls.

Other calls for service included: hazardous conditions, 121; service calls, 986; good intent calls, 527; false alarms and false calls, 770; severe weather/natural disaster, 8; and special incidents, 3.

Blazier said one example of a “hazardous condition” call would be a car leaking fuel. He said such calls are mitigated by the fire department before they become a bigger problem.

A “good intent” call is when someone calls the fire department because they see smoke and think it might be a structure fire.

“People see smoke and maybe it was smoke from a wood burner. It was smoke but it wasn’t an actual out-of-control fire,” he said. “It’s not an emergency, but the person called with good intentions.”

“Special incidents” are simply a call for service that does not fit neatly into any other category.

A “service call” can include someone needing assistance with shutting off their water because a pipe burst, pumping out their basement or even helping someone who has fallen down and can’t get up on their own.

“We’ve had people released from the hospital with a broken leg. They can’t get into their house on their own, so we go and assist them into their residence from a car,” he said.

Such calls also include animal-related calls such as a cat or dog getting stuck somewhere.

“We’ve had a number of animal rescues over the years that we have done,” Blazier said.

Compared to 2020, the department had a 14% increase in overall calls. This is attributed to the department being needed for events that were back up and running post-lockdown that occurred during the pandemic, along with schools and businesses being reopened.

Fire calls have actually decreased over the years.

Meanwhile, work on the I-70 Bridges Project did not hinder the department’s ability to respond to its calls for service, including ambulance calls, as much as anticipated.

“Last year, we got through challenging traffic obstacles with I-70 East being closed, which restricted quick access to Wheeling Hospital,” Blazier said. “The re-opening of the interstate — in both directions — is a relief to emergency responders.”

The fire department has a total of 97 employees, which includes firefighters and other staff members. Blazier is looking forward to the department moving into its new headquarters in 2023.

The building will be located on 17th Street in East Wheeling and expected to cost $6.4 million.

“This year will bring much anticipated enthusiasm to the Wheeling Fire Department,” he said. “This spring, WFD will break ground on a new headquarters in East Wheeling, with the hopes of occupying it by early 2023. We also are eagerly awaiting a brand-new engine truck for our Warwood fire house in the fall. I am thankful to city council and our city manager who continue to invest in our public safety services.”

Also in 2021, the department purchased a new ladder truck and two Ford F-450 ambulances. The department uses the National Fire Incident Reporting System Code Guide to categorize its calls for service. He noted most of the calls come via 911, but some also come over the department’s non-emergency line, too.

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