Home Local News KCFD report: Fires caused by homeless population on the rise | News

KCFD report: Fires caused by homeless population on the rise | News

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Suspected or known homeless activity contributed to 39 percent of fires in November and December last year, according to the 2021 Kern County Fire Department annual report, which compiles statistics from the agency’s work.

The uptick of fires reported in areas frequented by people without homes prompted the county’s fire department to start collecting this statistic for the first time in November, said Erica Bain, a public information officer with KCFD on Friday. She estimates about 44 percent of fires since January 2022 can be attributed to suspected or known homeless people.

Additionally, the number of incidents, responses and the call volume in 2021 surpassed statistics in 2020, making for another unmatched year, according to the report.

“During the 2021 calendar year, Kern County Fire Department responded to a record number of emergencies,” according to a news release attached to the annual report, which was released late Wednesday. “This Annual Report is a quick snapshot of the overwhelmingly large amount of work accomplished by the men and women of this fire department.”

The total number of incidents was up 10 percent since 2020, the report said. There were 62,718 incidents and 95,218 responses in 2021. Throughout 2020, there were 57,055 incidents and 87,837 responses.

Fires made up 5,329 of the total number of incidents, while 39,408 incidents were categorized as a medical emergency or a rescue last year. In 2020, 32,557 of the incidents were labeled as a medical emergency or rescue. Bain added the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for medical attention impacted this statistic heavily in 2020, but in 2021, the effect was not as dramatic.

In 2020, KCFD had a record-breaking year for responses, which led the agency to use 101,996 equipment hours, a whopping 249 percent increase since 2019, according to The Californian’s previous reporting. In 2021, this statistic dropped to 32,611 hours, the KCFD report states. An equipment hour refers to time that different vehicles and personnel must work when incidents arise.

Bain said a lot of equipment was delivered outside of Kern County in 2020, which contributed to the major increase. The KCFD spent about 80,000 hours outside of Kern County assisting with wildfire responses, according to the department’s data. That year was considered the largest wildfire season recorded in California’s modern history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A need for emergency services throughout the county is 53 percent higher than it was 10 years ago. However, the annual report notes the equipment and personnel at the 47 stations in Kern remains the same.

The KCFD created the fire recruitment assistance program in an effort to attract applicants from local communities, Bain wrote in an email. There are recruitment events in Bakersfield, Arvin, Taft, Ridgecrest and Tehachapi. Zoom meetings were available for those unable to attend a meeting in person, she added.

A one-day training camp for women interested in fire service is also being put together, Bain wrote. Another program enables part-time or seasonal firefighters to become full-time firefighters, she added.

Last year, the county fire department started with a new executive staff. KCFD Chief Aaron Duncan’s goal was to fully staff the agency, Bain noted, while adding they “are very close to that goal.” The Kern County Board of Supervisors also enabled the county’s fire department to spend $9 million in new equipment, she said.

The Emergency Communications Center call volume increased by 9.2 percent in 2021, with 500,210 total calls. In 2020, there were 458,213 total calls. To offset the increase in demand, Bain mentioned that four new positions have been added in the center.

“With the amount of calls we were having, our firefighters were tired, and they needed more time to rest and recoup,” Bain wrote, adding the new hires to the department have helped tremendously to maintain the staffing levels.

The county’s largest incident in 2021 was the French Fire, which destroyed 26,535 acres between August and September. The report states 912 buildings were saved through expending 16,360 man-hours. Personnel assigned to the fire totaled 246 people.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter. 

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