Naperville Fire Department changes way it responds to nonemergency calls

  • Naperville Fire Department will begin deploying these two vehicles -- one stationed on the city's north side and another on the south side -- to respond to nonemergency calls such as malfunctioning fire alarms and open burning complaints. Sending a vehicle smaller than a fire engine should help save fuel and maintenance costs.

    Naperville Fire Department will begin deploying these two vehicles -- one stationed on the city's north side and another on the south side -- to respond to nonemergency calls such as malfunctioning fire alarms and open burning complaints. Sending a vehicle smaller than a fire engine should help save fuel and maintenance costs. Courtesy of city of Naperville

 
 
Updated 5/15/2015 2:59 PM

Nonemergency calls to the fire department in Naperville no longer draw a response that makes the scene look like an emergency.

The department on Thursday deployed two repurposed vehicles called Rescue 1 and Rescue 2 to bring a one-person response to problems such as a malfunctioning fire alarm, a complaint of open burning, a broken elevator without anyone trapped inside or a carbon monoxide issue with no one reporting illness.

 

The vehicles -- a truck with towing capacity and an SUV formerly used by fire department command staff -- both were on hand already and now are housed at Station 9 on the city's north side and Station 10 on the south, Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said.

Rescue 1 and Rescue 2 replace the much larger -- and less fuel-efficient -- fire trucks that previously brought a crew of three firefighters or firefighter/paramedics to all calls for fire department service in Naperville, even those that are more of a nuisance than a safety threat.

"That really isn't the most efficient way we can operate," Puknaitis said.

Fire trucks get about 5 miles per gallon, and in nearly all nonemergency cases, three people aren't necessary to handle the situation. Sending a gas-guzzling apparatus and two extra people to the scene of a malfunctioning alarm or a faulty elevator puts extra strain on the vehicles and ties up personnel who could be needed in case a real emergency strikes, Puknaitis said.

Each year, the department responds to about 1,000 calls that now will be handled by the rescue vehicles. The tow truck and SUV now serving as Rescue 1 and Rescue 2 were given those names because "rescue" is a clear term for dispatchers, not so much because they will be conducting life-or-death rescue operations.

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However, if a house catches fire or a driver gets trapped in a vehicle and it's an all-hands-on-deck situation, Puknaitis said Rescue 1 and Rescue 2 can be assigned to drive their smaller vehicles to the scene and join the broader response.

Later this year, Puknaitis said the department plans to spend about $60,000 to buy two new pickup trucks to more permanently serve as rescue vehicles. The vehicles will be capable of running on compressed natural gas or propane as the city prepares to potentially build a natural gas fueling station and move toward alternative fuel sources.

Fire personnel will study the rescue program's effectiveness in increasing fuel efficiency, reliability and safety and decreasing maintenance costs for the larger ladder trucks, fire engines and ambulances.

The department isn't hiring anyone or changing its staffing levels to add the rescue program, but it is decreasing the number of ambulances staffed and available at any given time to seven from eight.

"We're getting two vehicles from one and still meeting all the service demands of the city with our existing ambulances," Puknaitis said.

Just a few hours after launching on Thursday, the rescue program responded to its first call: an elevator alarm.

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