The Crystal Fire Department continues to maintain a superior level of fire protection for residents of St. Marys as well as outlying areas as reported by Fire Chief Bill Kraus during a recent St. Marys City Council meeting.
The overall average response time for incidents last year was just over six minutes, with their quickest responses being five minutes, This indicates the time from pager activation until the first unit's arrival on scene.
The department currently has 95 volunteers, most of whom are 40 to 50 years old. Many members are EMT/paramedic-certified and state-certified in vehicle rescue. This training is in addition to being trained as a firefighter.
Kraus welcomed council members to tour the fire stations and to familiarize themselves with the members of the department and the equipment.
He introduced CFD's officers including Mike Kraus, deputy fire chief; Tom Kerchinski, assistant fire chief; Tom Bauer, CFD president; Ray Miller, board of directors chairman; and Greg Muhitch, board secretary and liaison between the city and fire department.
In 2013, the CFD responded to 317 incidents which is a decrease of four incidents from the previous year. Responses include 108 general alarms; 49 rescue calls; 29 training/drills; 41 public services; 25 investigations; eight carbon monoxide investigations; 11 fire prevention; six work nights and 40 mutual aid calls.
The general alarms include 46 false activations and 19 of the public service calls were water related.
Kraus cited the departments ISO rating of 3 which recognizes the department's excellence in three areas of communication between emergency dispatchers, department equipment and adequacy of a water system.
The ratings are determined after an inspection conducted by Underwriters Laboratories. CFD's ratings was issued in January 2013 following an evaluation in late 2012. This was the department's first evaluation in 10 years.
"They were pretty well pleased with everything we do," Kraus said.
Kraus said the department was proud to receive the rating which he emphasized keeps residents' homeowners/fire insurance low and would increase if department's ISO rating increases.
He explained the only aspect hurting their rating was the adequacy of water in outlying areas of the city's 95 square miles.
CFD maintains eight pieces of equipment, four of which are engines, owned by the department with two pieces owned by the city.
For the size of the community the department's equipment is good and if they were to downsize this would hurt their ISO rating, according to Kraus. In evaluating equipment reviewers take into consideration its age, if it meets NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards and its performance capabilities. Every year the department conducts checks on its ladder and pump trucks along with hose testing.
Total fire loss for 2013 was just over $1,081,075 and includes five industrial sites, four residential sites, two vehicle fires, one being a freight hauling truck and one piece of industrial equipment. This is an increase of $276,200 from 2012. This is in part due to industrial fires, one of which was at CamCo with a building value of $3.5 million and content value of just over $5.5 million. During this fire the building loss cost was only $1,000 with no loss of contents.
"Anytime we have to go in and fight a fire within an industry, if it wasn't for us being there it might have been a loss to the city, a loss of the whole building and we've seen that happen around in different areas," Kraus said.
One residential fire on West Creek Road was a complete loss of the home with a value of $124,500 and content value of $93,375. Kraus said the home was a total loss upon arrival on scene.
For 2013 buildings and contents loss was $978,875, vehicles loss of $52,200 and industrial equipment loss of $50,000.
Total building and contents savings for 2013 was $23.7 million.
Councilwoman Sally Geyer praised the department for saving nearby homes on Brusselles Street during a fire last month.
Kraus said they have two objectives upon arrival on scene which are to save any individuals followed by protecting nearby exposures, which were two neighboring homes.
"We were very fortunate, this doesn't always happen," Kraus said about how both adjacent homes were saved.
He added there was no saving the initial home from the beginning.
"We have an excellent mutual aid agreement throughout Elk County and the outlying counties. Anytime they need us they know they can call and anytime we need them we call them," Kraus said.
"In today's world in firefighting, with the way the industry is and people aren't working like they used to be and having 3,000 people at Stackpole and 1,000 at Keystone, you could generate enough guys to man your equipment throughout the day. Now it's getting tougher and tougher. In a lot of cases you have to rely on mutual aid."
The department responded to 35 mutual aid calls last year of which eight were for Elk Co. 2 from Johnsonburg; three for Elk Co. 3 in Fox Township; two for Elk Co. 4 in Ridgway; two for Elk Co. 5 in Jay Township; 12 for the City of St. Marys Police Dept.; two for Elkland Search and Rescue and one for the St. Marys Ambulance. CFD received five mutual aid responses with one each from Elk Co. 2 and 4 and three from Elk Co. 3.
One of the calls was in response to the tunnel fire at Domtar in Johnsonburg.
Kraus said the CFD has a dual response policy in place with Emporium in response to any incidents occur past Jackson Road. In such cases Emporium automatically sends a tanker truck to the scene which provides 2,000 gallons of water. This is in addition to 2,000 gallons from CFD's tanker truck
which is available until a water supply can be established.
Monday was the busiest day of the week for 2013. With the exception of last year which was Thursday, Monday has been the department's busiest day for the last three out of four years.
For five years running the busiest time of day was around 6 p.m.
During October's Fire Prevention Week, firefighters conducted inspections and drills at 16 local schools and healthcare facilities. Local firefighters provided fire prevention programs to approximately 500 preschool, kindergarten, first grade and home school students along with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.
In addition the 2013 Prom Promise Program was provided for the juniors and seniors of Elk County Catholic High School.
Kraus said many local employers released a number of firefighters from their jobs by 10 a.m. for the events.
"The City of St. Marys is very fortunate to have local employers that release our members for such things as the programs mentioned above, but more importantly they release our members to answer calls during working hours," Kraus said. "Without this privilege our department would have a tough time protecting our city during daytime working hours."
In-house training consisted of 32 sessions with 567 people in attendance for a total of 1,303 hours trained in-house. Each of these numbers were an increase from last year.
Monday evenings see activity at the fire station on Erie Avenue or South Michael Road whether for a monthly meeting, fire/rescue drill or work night to maintain the equipment.
"Many of our members are busy doing something," Kraus said.
Additional department committees meet other nights throughout the week.