Year-end emergency statistics reveal trends, anomalies

This season, Central Peninsula Emergency Services responded to little more than half the number of structure fires that they were called to last year. Between Nov. 1 and the end of December 2014, CES dealt with six structure fires, according to its Health and Safety officer Brad Nelson. During the same period in 2013, CES responded to 11 structure fires. Nelson said that the decrease might be attributable to this winter’s warmer temperatures.

“If I were just to make a very general broad-stroke statement, I’d think that it’s the fact that we haven’t had the need for as much heat (in homes),” said Nelson. “We haven’t seen the chimney fires that we typically see. Normally we have almost one a week. We had one (on Dec. 29), but we hadn’t seen one of those in a while. I’d feel safe making the assumption that the lack of bitter cold has had an effect on that.”

In addition to heating fires, another hazard that has been lessened by the warm winter is frozen pipes — or rather the measures that some homeowners take to prevent them.

“We’ve seen fires from people using arc-welders, or electricity, trying to thaw pipes,” Nelson said. “Heat-tape trying to thaw pipes. They’ll put heaters in their crawl-spaces trying to thaw pipes. So we’ll see a danger from that.”

So far, Nelson said, his department hasn’t seen any pipe-heating fires, or fires caused by the winter hazard of gas mains broken open by falling ice. However, Nelson did find that CES calls for vehicle accidents have increased. Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2013, CES responded to 34 accidents. During the same span of 2014, CES has been to 49 accidents. Nelson speculated that the frequent freezing and thawing of ice on the road surfaces may have contributed to the accident rate, but said that the increase ran counter to his intuition.

“It just seems like we have not been to as many accidents this year,” said Nelson. “So we were thinking, is it the weather? Is it the safety corridor (the reduced speed-limit area between Soldotna and Sterling)? Is it the fact that we don’t have the ice for fishing so people aren’t coming down here? But then looking at the numbers, we have more (accidents), so I’m not sure how that came off. It sure doesn’t feel like we’ve been to more than we did last year.” Although the number of fire calls has been less than in previous winters, Nelson said that total emergency calls that CES has responded to has increased.

“That’s a trend we’ve been seeing for many, many years now. This year we’re going to go over 2,500 calls. … We are getting busier. It’s just which calls we’re going to,” said Nelson. Much of the increase during the last several years has come from medical calls, which Nelson attributed to the general rise in population on the Kenai Peninsula, particularly the growing number of seniors.

“There are a lot more medical services available now,” said Nelson, “so people in retirement age are sticking around, where before, just to get their medical needs taken care of, they had to move out of the area or out of state. They’re not having to do that anymore, so we’re seeing our retired population grow. Of course that’s going to increase our medical calls.”

According to its public information officer Bud Sexton, the Nikiski Fire Department saw a less dramatic difference than that noticed by CES. Sexton said that Nikiski firefighters responded to 27 fires in all of 2014. In 2013, they responded to 40. Sexton did not think the decrease was significant for his department.

“We don’t have as many (calls) as Kenai or Soldotna just because of the lower number of homes, but so far this winter, we’ve had several different instances of chimney fires and heating-related issues,” said Sexton. “It’s typical for us, as far as what we’ve seen.”

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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