In a sign of Teton Valley’s continuing growth, the Teton County Fire District reported a 13% call increase from 2021 to 2022.
Total calls jumped from 786 to 905 according to data collected by the TCFD.
70% of the total number of calls were medical in nature, which mirrors a national trend for fire departments that also serve as EMS providers according to Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne.
“It’s interesting to point out that that’s really a national trend. Any EMS service that is coming out of a fire department or local government is going to run somewhere between that 60% to 75% of your call volume is going to be medical,” said Maltaverne.
Maltaverne, while working for Bozeman (MT) Fire Department and the Rapid City (SD) Fire Department, had never seen such an increase in his career as a fire chief.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 13% increase,” said Maltaverne. “I think the highest I saw was a 10% or 11%.”
Maltaverne also stated he is seeing the increase come in evenly across Teton County, but did mention that “statistically, most of the calls happen right in the middle of the district.”
Hidden in the increase is a 25% reduction in fire-related calls, dropping from 41 in 2021 to 35 in 2022.
The biggest jumps were seen in the ‘Hazardous calls’ (30%) and ‘False Alarm/False Call’ (31%) categories.
Special Incident Type calls jumped 40%, but that percentage was skewed higher due to its rarity with only 2 more calls than in 2021. Special Incident Type calls are calls that don’t fit into other categories, such as being asked to respond to cleanup car parts off a roadway after an accident.
‘Hazardous’ calls usually represent an incident like smelling an unfamiliar odor or hearing an unusual sound while ‘Service’ calls can represent someone needing help getting up after a fall or any other form of public assistance.
While the number of motor vehicle accident-related calls remained “largely unchanged” from 2021, their severity did not, which one could guess was going to be the case after a particularly nasty stretch of accidents last July.
“I’ve expressed in the community that this summer was exceptionally difficult on staff just with the numbers of motor vehicle accidents that had serious injury, if not fatalities,” said Maltaverne. “Those are really difficult.”
The victims of those accidents varied, with commuters, contractors, and visitors making up the affected parties. Maltaverne attested to higher traffic counts being a good metric that shows that with more people on the road comes more danger.
“We’re seeing that there’s a lot more people moving around in the county,” said Maltaverne. The Idaho Transportation Department itself spoke of higher traffic counts before the holidays while addressing Victor and Driggs City Councils.
Also unsurprisingly, increases in recreation-related calls make up a significant amount of calls for service. There was a 16% increase in trips into Wyoming, mainly to Grand Targhee Resort or Teton Canyon.
“We’ve got more visitors in Teton Canyon, more visitors to Targhee,” said Maltaverne. “It’s really all to be expected.”
Continuing the trend of increases was the demand for interfacility transfers, with a jump from 155 to 188 calls. Interfacility transfers are done when a medical patient either needs a higher level of care or care for a more extended period of time than Teton Valley Hospital can accommodate.
Higher demand equals higher mental toll on responders
While responding to help others is always a tough job, this last year crews were not only busier but faced more demanding mental stress… Particularly concerning serious motor vehicle accidents.
To mitigate that, Maltaverne and other TCFD personnel have expanded support programs for responders including peer support groups and other resources.
“We’ve made some good strides lately to help with the mental health of our workforce here,” said Maltaverne.
Permeating through those discussions is a culture that makes it a point to treat mental harm with the same respect and due diligence as physical harm.
“What happens when someone goes on the same call but has a different outcome and it’s a mental injury compared to a physical injury? We should lend the same amount of attention to that mental trauma that they do with the physical trauma,” said Maltaverne.
TCFD is also doing its part to continue to foster a community-wide culture of mental health support by teaming up with other public safety authorities and organizations.
“There’s an uptick in that collaboration between all the public safety entities around the county,” said Maltaverne. “You’re seeing a lot of conversations about mental health going on between the hospital, the sheriff’s office, search and rescue, the fire district, and the mental health coalition is leading that.”
Backing up sentiment with data to institute change
With hard data now in front of him, Maltaverne was keen to spread the numbers and data points around the department instead of just relying on staff sentiment.
“It is kind of an exciting time for us, or it’s an anxious time, because you want to look and see if indeed the numbers support what we were feeling in the stations,” said Maltaverne. “As we see today, they do.”
That translated to a lack of surprise and a prediction that numbers are going to keep climbing, barring a catastrophe or deep economic recession.
“Most everything that we’re seeing here is to be expected,” said Maltaverne. “If you asked me to look into a crystal ball and tell you what I expected was going to happen in 2023, I would tell you that it’s probably going to continue. I don’t see this trend ending.”
Crucially, these numbers will be informing decisions made through all aspects of the Fire District to back up larger demands for resources.
“As a fire district and as the Fire Chief, I’m going to continue to look at the most effective and efficient ways to maintain the same level of service that we’re providing today while we match that growth,” said Maltaverne. “We have to match our resources and our people to the demand placed on our service.”
Those changes will be brought upon by a mentality of realizing trends and identifying what TCFD can affect versus what they have to react to in the community.
“What can we affect and what do we just have to accept?” asked Maltaverne. “We have to accept the people moving here. Are there some things that we can do to reduce some of these calls for service?”
“Our response is this is only the reactionary part of what we do here. There’s (also) the other side, which is the proactive approach, which is teaching people how to be more safe, and (for example) participate in conversations about Highway 33 and how we can make that a more safe traveling corridor and all those things,” said Maltaverne.
In turn, those discussions will also help with long-term planning, which the Fire District is hoping to begin undertaking very soon.
“We’ll be writing a strategic plan for years ‘24, ‘25, and ‘26,” said Maltaverne. “At the end of, hopefully within roughly six months, we’ll have this roadmap for the next three and a half to four years for the district.”