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St. Lucie County-Engine 15 one of busiest in the country

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  • St. Lucie County-Engine 15 one of busiest in the country

    Engine 15 one of busiest in the country

    By Derek Simmonsen staff writer
    September 23, 2003

    ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- It all starts with a beeeeeep.

    "Rescue 15 priority one, engine 15 priority three," the 9-1-1 dispatcher announces, her voice booming into the radio room.

    Pagers go off detailing the call and within seconds a computer has printed out details of what rescue workers can expect to find -- in this case, a child with a hand injury.

    It's another call to work for the crew of five, who are scattered around the stationhouse on Avenue D.

    Within minutes, some are onboard the ambulance where the driver activates the lights and siren (priority one) and others climb into the engine as it follows silently (priority three) behind.

    On an average day, it will be one of 11 calls they drive to, making the engine one of the busiest in the country.

    "It comes with the territory," said paramedic/firefighter Wasnel Petit-Bien, 24, while writing reports at the station later that night. "We have some days when we don't sleep at all."

    According to a recent survey conducted by Firehouse Magazine, St. Lucie County's Engine 15 is the 18th busiest engine company in the United States. The engine makes more runs than the busiest engines in cities like Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas. And the list goes on.

    They might not know the hard numbers, but the fire rescue workers who staff the station know about busy days and nights.

    Busiest engine

    Around 6 p.m. on a recent Saturday evening, some of the crew members sit down to catch a quick bite of dinner before getting sent out again.

    "It's our second try at dinner," acknowledges Lt. Tom Gladwin, between bites.

    Being interrupted comes with the job, though. The crews work a 24-hour shift, starting and ending at 7:30 a.m., which means that a wide range of activities, from writing reports and cleaning the station to eating and sleeping can be canceled by a call to service.

    With its borders stretching from Naco Road in the north to Ohio Avenue in the south, west to 41st Street and east to Indian River Drive, the crew cuts a wide swath through the county. The central station has a greater variety of calls (they respond to more fires), but the station does not have quite the same volume of calls as Station 15, Duran said.

    The station is like a home away from home for the crew. They eat meals there, sleep there and sometimes even have a chance to kick back and watch a little TV; five easy chairs are set up in the living/dining room area. In-between, they have chores such as cleaning the station and training exercises to complete.

    They work five 24-hour shifts in a two-week period, or about 10 per month, said Battalion Chief Carlos Duran, a St. Lucie County Fire District spokesman.

    Some go by much quicker than others do. As paramedic/firefighter Collin Stanford quickly pages through the logbook, long lists of calls can be seen for some days, while others record only a few entries. The long days tend to stick in the mind.

    "One day we had eight calls before noon," Petit-Bien said.

    Midway through a recent Saturday night shift, Stanford changes his uniform as he prepares to move from the fire engine to the ambulance. Rotating rescue workers from station to station and shifting their duties keeps the job interesting, Stanford said.

    "You get much more experience this way," he said. "You don't get burned out."

    Within an hour he will respond to two calls on the ambulance that the engine will not follow on. Later, both the engine and ambulance travel to the scene of a minor car accident, but the engine is called back to the station. The injuries are minor and the engine is not needed.

    Some nights are quiet, some are not.

    Several days later, the same crew will be one of many at the scene of a deadly accident -- a tour bus strikes an SUV at the intersection of North 25th Street and Avenue I, killing a 14-year-old girl.

    The engine crew knows it is busy, but St. Lucie's ranking came as a surprise, Duran said. Part of that can be attributed to the cross-training -- because firefighters are trained to handle medical emergencies, they are dispatched to more of those calls.

    "In the late '70s, EMS was first introduced into the U.S. as a nationwide system," Duran said. "We embraced that concept early on and we've been able to develop that since the '80s.

    "We certainly have a system we can be proud of," he said.

    Not all fire departments combine their ambulance and fire service, but it's something the county has found to be beneficial, Duran said.

    "The big advantage is that both the fire and [emergency medical services] sides work under the same administration," he said. "A lot of the conflicts that arise from having two separate systems working on the same type of emergency are gone. There's a lot more teamwork."

    It saves taxpayers money in the long run, too, by being more efficient and better structured, Duran said. The combined model is something that more and more fire departments around the country are adopting.

    Because of that, all of the firefighters are -- at a minimum -- emergency medical technicians, and new employees are required to become paramedics within three years.

    That's why people often see the engine following behind the ambulance, Gladwin explained. Not because every emergency call is a fire, but because everyone on the engine could provide backup in a medical emergency.

    The engine is equipped with basic life support gear, with the future goal to equip all engines with advanced life support gear (some already have it). This allows for an engine to respond first if an ambulance is busy on another call.

    Only about 15 percent of calls are actually fires now -- the rest are medical related, Duran said. In 2002, rescue crews went out to 28,620 calls. Out of those, 24,635 were medical and 3,985 were fires, he said.

    They expect to respond to more than 30,000 calls this year, Duran said.

    "We expect that to continue," he said. "Every year we have a big jump, with the tremendous growth in Port St. Lucie and in the north end of the county."
    Ladders dont put out fires... water puts out fires... engines companies rule.

  • #2
    Thats a nice honor

    Its a nice honor to be named the 18th busiest Engine Co in the counrty...BUT....How many departments were polled in the survey. SLCFD Engine 15 was the 18th busiest in the nation based on the departments that answered the survey. I tend to believe that the REAL busy Engines and/or Departments are to busy to answer the survey.


    • #3
      Re: Thats a nice honor

      Originally posted by jeff34952
      Its a nice honor to be named the 18th busiest Engine Co in the counrty...BUT....How many departments were polled in the survey. SLCFD Engine 15 was the 18th busiest in the nation based on the departments that answered the survey. I tend to believe that the REAL busy Engines and/or Departments are to busy to answer the survey.
      Departments aren't really POLLED, per se. They send the info in voluntarily. If you don't send it, it doesn't go in. And also, I believe each department can only send in 1 per category. Ex: FDNY can only send it's busiest engine, it's busiest rescue, busiest Hazmat, etc., even though their slowest engine may be busier than the #2 engine in the survey.

      Plus, there are many different ways to count things. What FDNY counts as a "Structure Fire" is a true, working structure fire. Some others count "food on the stove" as a structure fire. Not saying one way is right or wrong, but that's how it is.

      Also departments differ on how they tabulate total runs. Ex: Where I live, no matter how many pieces you roll out of the house, it is 1 run. I believe it was PG County in Maryland that counts runs by the number of pieces that respond. Ex: If you have 5 pieces and they all roll to the same call, it's counted as 5 runs, not 1.
      The comments made by me are my opinions only. They DO NOT reflect the opinions of my employer(s). If you have an issue with something I may say, take it up with me, either by posting in the forums, emailing me through my profile, or PMing me through my profile.
      We are all adults so there is no need to act like a child........


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