COVID-19 kept Aurora Fire Department calls down in 2020

Ken Lahmers
Special to the Aurora Advocate
Exhaust extraction systems were purchased and installed at both Aurora Fire Department stations in 2020, and were funded by a $138,680 FEMA grant. The city’s contribution was $6,603.

Overall calls responded to by the Aurora Fire Department in 2020 declined by 290 from 2019, according to Fire Chief David Barnes’ year-end report of department activities. There were 2,155 total calls (1,584 EMS and 571 fire), compared to 2,445 in 2019.

“Much of that decrease was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made people reluctant to go to hospitals and forced nursing homes to keep less critical patients in house,” Barnes said.

Total calls in 2018 and 2017 were 2,137 and 2,193, respectively.

Fire loss for the year was estimated at $107,472. Barnes said that was mostly from a commercial kitchen fire at the Aurora Inn, a basement fire on Aurora-Hudson Road and a garage on Crackel Road.

“All of those fires were extinguished quickly, and there were no injuries to occupants,” Barnes said.

Major purchases last year included exhaust removal systems for both stations, an inflatable rescue boat and a new aerial ladder truck. The latter costs about $900,000 and should arrive in the latter half of 2021.

Ninety-five percent of the exhaust system was funded by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant. The rescue boat replaced one that was about 20 years old, while the ladder truck will replace a 1986 model, and will be more versatile, maneuverable and easier to operate.

Other new new equipment purchased focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, including infrared thermometers, a Victory electrostatic disinfectant gun, washable PPE gowns and other protective gear.

“The AFD adjusted to the many changes brought on by COVID-19 by having more videotaped engagements,” said Barnes.

University Hospital personnel conducted monthly training sessions for the AFD’s emergency medical crews, while firefighters participated in a variety of training sessions and some were involved with the Portage County Search and Rescue Team and Portage County Fire Investigation Unit.

Aurora participated in Portage County water shuttle exercises in Troy, Russell, Bainbridge and Southington townships, and EMT students from University Hospital did ride-alongs with local crews to witness real situations and responses.

The Fire Prevention Bureau continued to promote safety in existing buildings and new construction, reviewing plans, issuing permits, conducting acceptance tests for fire sprinkler systems and fire alarms, and carrying out final certificate of occupancy inspections at large commercial/industrial sites.

Inspectors performed 420 safety inspections of commercial/industrial occupancies, and issued more than 200 notices of corrective action.

“Public relations and education is a large part of the department’s job as it continued to provide instructors for businesses and schools,” said Barnes.

However, the COVID pandemic meant Capt. C.W. Hudson taught fire extinguisher classes to only 15

business employees, compared to more than 600 in 2019. Firefighter Mike Overholt taught CPR training in the schools and to various groups, and certified 253 people in either Health Care Provider CPR or Heartsaver AED and/or First Aid.

Four firefighters are National Child Passenger Safety Certified technicians, and they installed 25 child protective seats in 2020, while the AFD continued its partnership with the Aurora One Fund to supply and install smoke detectors in homes.

The residential lock box program, instituted in 2017, saw 31 residents request boxes, bringing the total to 120. The boxes contain a key to the resident’s home and allow first responders to gain entry when a resident cannot make it to a locked door.

The department joined city leaders in a video to recognize local war heroes, and did a drive-by for a veteran’s 100th birthday. Barnes made his famous chili for the annual Christmas Eve blood drive, at which 83 units were collected.

Firefighters usually participate in community events such as parades, distance runs and truck days to establish a friendly relationship with residents, but COVID curtailed most of those events last year.

“It was a difficult year, but we learned to adjust to new protocols because of COVID-19,” said Barnes. “We are continuing our history of excellent service while keeping firefighters, paramedics and residents safe.

“As we move forward into 2021, we will continue to provide prompt, professional and superior care for our residents and the structures we are entrusted to protect.”

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