Crime and Justice

Burlington Fire Department sees large increase in calls

Firefighters from the Burlington Fire Department respond to a call on Bank Street in March 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The Burlington Fire Department said it has received 991 more calls this year than it had last year at this point. On Monday alone, crews responded to 45 calls.

In all of 2016, the department received 7,536 calls. That number has steadily increased, except for a dip during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Call volume rose again to 8,289 calls in 2021. 

Through the first seven months of 2022, the Burlington Fire Department has already received almost 6,000 calls. Acting Fire Chief Derek Libby estimates the department is on pace to reach 9,500 calls by year’s end, which would represent a 26% increase over 2016.

The increase can’t be attributed to any specific incident type, Libby said. “We’re just seeing an increase in volume across the board.”

The acting chief said he had thought that the increase might be attributed to an uptick in behavioral or mental health problems, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. 

About 70% of the fire department’s calls are typically for emergency medical services, according to Libby, and that percentage hasn’t drastically changed this year, even though call volume is up substantially.

In the past few days, Libby said, the fire department has received more calls than usual about car accidents, elevator problems and power outages.

Despite the increased demand for rescue services, the Burlington Fire Department still has the capacity to adequately respond, Libby said.

The department has three ambulances, one of which was added in August 2021, and that seems to be enough. “At this point, I couldn’t justify adding an ambulance,” Libby said. 

Although Burlington occasionally relies on ambulances from nearby towns when all of its ambulances are busy, Libby said that typically happens only a couple of times a week. An exception came about three weeks ago, when out-of-town ambulances were summoned five times in a week, he said.

However, the fire department is being affected in other ways by the volume of calls, he said. 

“An increase in the number of calls has an effect on daily operations,” Libby said. “We have currently 12 probationary members in their first year of employment. … So when you have 45 calls in a day, that takes away from the time you have to train.”

That doesn’t mean the probationary members aren’t getting adequate training; rather, their training is extended longer into the day, Libby said.  

Libby said the department is still analyzing the increase in call volume in an effort to understand what’s fueling it.

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Juliet Schulman-Hall

About Juliet

Juliet Schulman-Hall recently graduated from Smith College, majoring in English, minoring in sociology and concentrating in poetry. Most recently, she has worked for MassLive covering abortion and the environment, among other topics. Prior to that, she worked for Ms. Magazine and has done freelance work for PBS's Next Avenue and Arkansas Nonprofit News Network.

Email: [email protected]

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