The North Tooele Fire District has been running with 24-hour coverage for nearly two months and Chief Randy Willden said the results have been encouraging.
The fire district had operated with paid firefighters on a 14-hour schedule between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. prior to March 18. The evening shift was covered by a combination of off-duty and volunteer firefighters.
Now all fire and medical calls are handled by two paid professional firefighters, a captain and the fire engine driver, Willden said. The firefighters work a 48-hour shift followed by 96 hours off.
“Now we know we have coverage for every call,” he said.
Firefighters sleep at the fire station in Stanbury Park during their shift, which creates continuity on crews and gives them time to check equipment and participate in community events, Willden said. The firefighters who live outside of the area don’t have to drive back and forth every day with the extended shift and layoff as well, he said.
“It’s just better,” Willden said. “We have the same people here for 48 hours.”
The decision to move to 24-hour coverage means the fire district isn’t as reliant on volunteer and off-duty firefighters, who had to report to the fire station and gather gear before heading to an emergency, Willden said.
The full-time firefighters are now paged separately from the volunteers and off-duty crews, who now serve as backup in case of a significant emergency, Willden said. The volunteer and off-duty firefighters would previously be paged on every call.
When eight or nine volunteer firefighters would respond to a call at 2 a.m. in the morning that proved to be a non-emergency, they eventually stopped responding to calls, Willden said.
In previous years, out of about 800 calls, only two received no response beside the chief and an assistant, according to Willden. Last year, no one else showed up to about 10 calls.
Since moving to 24-hour coverage, response times are down and fire and medical calls receive an appropriate response, Willden said. Firefighters at the station have all of their gear and are already near the engine, so they can respond more rapidly to an emergency.
“Our response times have gone down dramatically,” Willden said.
The move to 24-coverage won’t result in a tax increase for those living in the district, according to Willden. He said the spending on personnel will only be a small increase, as the fire district would previously have to pay off-duty responders for every call they responded to.
Willden also said paid firefighters make sense in the North Tooele Fire District, as many of the district’s volunteers work in Salt Lake County and cannot respond as rapidly to fires and other emergencies.
“We just could not rely on the volunteers to staff calls,” Willden said.
The North Tooele Fire District is the first 24-hour paid fire department in Tooele County, according to Willden.