The Port Alberni Fire Department had its busiest year to date in 2021.
The department responded to 1,989 calls for service in 2021, an increase from 1,281 in 2020.
Every year, the PAFD compares its statistics to the year previous. But 2020, said PAFD Chief Mike Owens, was not a normal year. The department instead posted its statistics from the last five years on social media to provide a more accurate look at the increase in calls for service.
Shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020, firefighters were ordered by the province to stop responding to medical emergency calls, except for the most immediately life-threatening calls. The directive aimed to limit first responders’ exposure to COVID-19, but the order was revised later in the year.
Because of this, the fire department only responded to 544 medical first responder calls in 2020—a decrease from 832 calls in 2019. In 2021, the PAFD responded to 1,141 medical first responder calls—more than double the number in 2020.
“2020’s numbers are not a good comparison,” summarized Owens.
Data from BC Emergency Health Services shows that paramedics responded to 4,507 medical emergency calls in Port Alberni in 2021; an increase of nine per cent from 2020, when there were 4,101 medical emergency responses.
Of this year’s medical emergency responses, BCEHS says about 25 per cent were immediately life-threatening or time critical.
Part of the reason for the increase in calls was the increase in overdoses. The province set a grim new record for monthly overdose deaths in October, as 201 people lost their lives to illicit drug poisonings. The death toll in B.C. for 2021 had reached 1,782 as of the beginning of December.
“We’ve definitely seen some of our first responder calls impacted by an increase in overdose numbers,” said Owens.
Motor vehicle incidents were also down in 2020, to 137 from 173 calls in 2019. The year 2021 saw a “return to normal” numbers for MVIs, with 178 calls.
“There were a lot of individuals that returned to travel again in 2021,” explained Owens.
The fire department also saw a much higher number of structure fires in 2021 than the previous four years. Owens said more analysis is needed to determine what prompted this influx in fires.
“The array of causes for the different fires—not one thing stands out,” said Owens.
Some of the increase in calls is attributed to the extreme weather events that took place in 2021. The fire department had 53 calls this year related to the “heat dome” that took place between June 25 and July 1. In July, the department responded to 18 calls of brush fires and wildfires within a span of a week.
The year ended on a busy note, as well, as the department responded to three apartment fires within 10 days of each other. In all three cases, the fires were confined to the suite of origin. Owens attributes this to working fire alarms and a fast response by Alberni Valley fire departments.
2021 Key Stats for the Port Alberni Fire Department:
Motor vehicle incidents:
Medical first responder calls: