COVINGTON - In 2007, firefighters with Newton County Fire Service ran about 200 more calls than they did in 2006, according to Chief Mike Satterfield.
"If this was a profit-making business, we would be in a great business right now," Satterfield told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night. Satterfield was on hand to present the Fire Service 2007 end-of-year report.
The department's paid and volunteer stations answered 5,106 calls, responding to an average of 14 calls per day, he said.
More than half of total calls - 2,866 - were for medical emergencies.
The department has addressed this by sponsoring its first EMT class, with 23 firefighters completing the certification program, Satterfield said.
The department may not always respond to more routine medical calls, such as a report of flu-like symptoms, unless it looks like Newton EMS may have a long response time, he said.
Newton EMS ambulances are located at Fire Station No. 1 off Flat Shoals Road and part-time at station No. 14 at Ga. Highway 212 and Oak Hill Road and Station No. 9 at Mt. Zion Road.
"We're basically at the mercy of the ambulance service and what they have available and where they will allow us to station them," he said.
The fire department's average monthly response time is right at 10 minutes, from the time 911 answers a call until firefighters arrive on the scene, he said.
When asked by Commissioners J.C. Henderson and Earnest Simmons how to lower response times, Satterfield responded that, as far as the fire department is concerned, more stations at strategic locations is the answer.
A new station on Ga. Highway 213 that opened late last year has made a significant improvement in response times in that area, he said.
A seventh paid station is set to open on Brown Bridge Road by the end of the year, he said.
In addition to emergency medical calls, firefighters answered 186 structure fires, and almost as many vehicle fires, at 144, an unusually high number, Satterfield said.
Many of those vehicles were reported stolen in other counties, he added.
Eight arrests were made in arson cases, with five convictions handed down and three cases still pending.
The department responded to 302 tree, grass or brush fires and 485 false calls, he said.
Usually, false calls are the result of malfunctioning alarms, he said, adding that the property owners get a limited number of false alarms before the department starts charging to come out.
Satterfield said the department is dealing with the increased call volume by hiring 10 part-time firefighters, with four on duty each day.
These part-timers have already been credited with saving the life of a man who suffered a heart attack, he said.
The department also formed a task force to inspect all public and private schools in the county during students' holiday break. The task force was able to complete inspections and schools made any needed corrections before students returned to school, he said.
"Our schools were in very good condition. Very few problems did we find," he said.
The department also educated 4,719 Newton County school children with the help of fire safety educators from around the state and installed 80 smoke detectors in homes during the year and 303 safety lectures to businesses, schools and civic groups.
Finally, construction of a storage building for equipment and supplies was completed. Located behind Fire Station No. 1, the building was constructed by firefighters and came in more than $2,000 under budget, Satterfield reported.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.