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Fire Department Logs Busiest Year
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For the first time in its history, the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District topped out at more than 1,000 calls for a calendar year.

Though the department's budget year is on the fiscal calendar, July 1 through June 30, the call log runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, the traditional calendar year.

"We had 1,038 calls," Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said of the calls for 2008. "This is a record as far as we know ... we had 995 last year (2007), so we were close, but this is the first time we've broken 1,000."

Averaged out, that is slightly less than three calls per day.

Some days are much busier, with crews responding to multiple incidents, while there is the occasional day where the tones don't even go off.

Mello said there were a couple of factors figuring in to the increase in calls.

"We had early heat in April and May," he said, noting that prompted some early minor fires.

A busy summer season also helped increase the number of responses, with the department dealing with everything from emergency medical service calls to auto accidents to mutual aid assignments.

Closing out the year with a couple of busy months, crews responded to more than 100 calls in December alone.

"We had 96 calls in November, 104 in December," Mello said. "We had a large number of structure fires in November and December."

Five were logged during that period, including one on Carrolton Road confined to a roof, two on River Road believed to be intentionally set and another on McBride Avenue that was confined to an added on room at a home.

"Both for us, and the occupants or the homeowners, we were very luck to not have more significant damage in any of them," the chief said.

Firefighters have seen their role evolve over the years and now they roll on all medical aid calls in addition to fires and accidents. Medical aid, in fact, accounted for the highest percentage of calls for the department.

"Our busiest months were July and December, each with 104 calls and our busiest month for EMS was November, with 77 calls," Mello said. "Seventy-seven of our 96 calls in November were medical aids."

Highest month for accident responses was January, with 14 and the largest number of fire responses, 19, was logged in May.

The department also sent out a strike team and Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro served a couple of times in a strike team leadership role. Nick Anderson accepted an eight-month assignment with Cal Fire and three of the department's volunteers have been accepted and will be attending the Ripon Fire Academy, Travis Bonds, Travis Chamberlain and Jake Merrill.

"I know they're going to a good program," Mello said of the three. "They'll get good training and come back even better prepared to serve."

The department is fully staffed, with three full-time people per shift and Station 1 staffed around the clock.

"Each shift has a Battalion Chief and two firefighters," said Mello, in addition to the staff including himself and administrative secretary Donna Fourre.

There are also eight volunteers in the department, though they are currently down to two reserve firefighters.

"We have six applications pending," said Mello.

With 65 percent of the department's calls being of the medical aid variety, the firefighters continue training and Mello said they have entered into an agreement with Escalon Community Ambulance to do some of that training here.

A five-member fire district board oversees the department budget and serving again this year as chairperson is John Wright, with Andy Dugo as vice chair.

Other board members are Mickey Schilber, Joe Azzopardi and Steve Reichmuth.

"The board has been extremely pleased with Chief Mello and what he's done with the department," Wright said. "Our goal as board members is just to make sure the department stays solvent, make wise use of the money ... we've got a great group of board members that have the community interest and fire department interest foremost in their decisions."

Budget work for the 2009-2010 department year will begin within a few weeks.

"It was a busy year," Mello summarized. "The guys like to be busy."