Last year, the Lowell Area Fire Department saw a dip in its service calls as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Fire Chief Shannon Witherell says call volumes are about back to pre-pandemic levels now.
During the first quarter of 2021, the department responded to 241 incidents. These broke down into the following categories:
- Rescue and emergency medical service: 165
- Hazardous condition, no fire: 22
- Good intent call: 17
- Fire: 15
- Service call: 12
- False alarm and false call: 10
Hazardous condition calls often involve downed power lines while good intent calls are those made by a person who sees a situation that needs to be addressed. For instance, someone calling to report an accident they witnessed would be categorized as a good intent call.
The Lowell Area Fire Department covers a service area that includes the City of Lowell, Vergennes Township and the section of Lowell Charter Township running from the city limits south to I-96. However, the department will assist in other communities when mutual aid is requested.
During the first quarter of 2021, the department responded to incidents in the following jurisdictions:
- Ada Township – 1
- Cascade Township – 1
- City of Lowell – 103
- Lowell Township – 84
- Vergennes Township – 52
Cost Recovery Ordinance Used for First Time
Earlier this year, the City of Lowell passed a cost recovery ordinance which allows the fire department to bill for certain calls, such as those for hazardous materials. Similar ordinances are also being considered by Lowell Charter Township and Vergennes Township.
The Lowell Area Fire Department had its first chance to use the ordinance when an accident involving a semi-truck resulted in a 300-gallon diesel spill. The incident, which took five hours to resolve, required the work of multiple trucks and 12 firefighters. Some equipment was also contaminated by the fuel.
The department issued a $7,000 bill to the trucking company to recoup costs, and Witherell says a prompt payment was made with no questions asked.
Smoke Detector Program a Success
The Lowell Area Fire Department has partnered with Keeping Michigan SAFE to provide free smoke alarms to area residents. Michigan has a high number of fire fatalities each year, according to Witherell, and the partnership is intended to improve safety for local families.
Smoke detectors are provided free of charge by Keeping Michigan SAFE and installed by firefighters. There are no income or age restrictions to participate although homes must be owner-occupied and located within the Lowell Area Fire Department service area.
So far, 36 homes have been serviced, with 144 smoke detectors and 48 carbon monoxide detectors installed. Each smoke detector has a 10-year sealed lithium battery so homeowners won’t have to worry about changing batteries or other maintenance.
“A smoke detector sensor is only good for 10 years,” Witherell notes. That means all smoke alarms should be replaced every decade. Meanwhile, the lifespan of a carbon monoxide sensor is seven years.
While the fire department is waiting for a new shipment of alarms, area residents can ask to be put on a waiting list for new detectors once they become available. Call the fire station at 616-897-7354 or email Witherell at [email protected] to be added to the list.
Department Exceeds 1,000 Quarterly Training Hours
In addition to responding to calls, members of the Lowell Area Fire Department spent a considerable amount of time training during the first quarter of the year. Currently, the fire department serves as a medical first responder. However, it is transitioning to provide EMT service to the community.
From January through the end of March, the department logged 1,023 hours of training time which equals out to 36 hours per staff member. In-house training refreshes firefighters on skills such as CPR and electrical safety, but members can attend specialized training programs as well.
Connecting with the Community
Throughout the pandemic, the Lowell Area Fire Department has worked to stay connected with the community through activities such as birthday drive-bys for area children.
“[We are] always looking for ways to engage with the public,” Witherell says. Next up, in June, members of the department will be serving a chicken BBQ dinner as part of the Expo on the Riverwalk event. The department is also selling t-shirts and hoodies through an online sale that runs until May 1, 2021.
For more information about the Lowell Area Fire Department, follow their Facebook page.