Editor’s note: Sixth in a series reviewing 2012 through various departmental statistics and numbers in and around St. Clair.

A slower fourth quarter of the 2012 calendar year allowed call numbers for the St. Clair Fire Protection District to remain the same as the year before, statistics showed.

In fact, the exact same number of calls were filed in both years at 1,302.

“All in all, it ended up being an average year,” Interim Chief Mike Kelley said in regard to the number of 2012 calls. “During the last three months, we were fairly slow and not on our normal pace, so that lessened our overall numbers.”

Kelley attributed the fewer calls in October, November and December, at least in part, to the lack of an autumn brush fire season.

“Even with the dry conditions, we didn’t have an increase in fall brush fires,” he said. “That actually is quite surprising to me.

“Usually we are busy in the fall, but not this year.”

There still were just over 100 calls for grass, brush or wildland fires, the largest of which came in early March when at least 70 acres were charred north of Highway TT along Iron Hill Road and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks just north of St. Clair.

That fire first was reported at the intersection of Highway TT and Iron Hill Road. Fueled by strong, gusty winds, it quickly burned out of control and eventually turned into a four-alarm brush fire that burned a narrow path about a half-mile long. Several homes and other structures were threatened, but none caught fire.

Crews were on the scene at that location throughout the day in keeping the fire under control and making sure it didn’t flare up again.

As far as other fire calls, St. Clair firefighters responded to 31 structure and 19 vehicle fires last year.

There were no serious injuries or deaths from any fire-related call in 2012.

“I contribute that to newer construction, better technology, the awareness of the public and the fire-prevention activities we do,” Kelley said. “All that has helped us a bunch.”

The interim chief also said the fact that two firehouses, No. 1 on North Street in St. Clair and No. 2 in Lonedell, are staffed by firefighters 24 hours every day.

“We have a great group of guys who love their jobs and are dedicated to the fire district and its purpose,” Kelley said. “We continue to want to serve and help our community and be a part of our community.”

In 2011, there were 46 structure fires, 65 grass or brush fires and 24 vehicle fires.

The 1,302 total calls last year account for every time a firefighter or crew left one of the four district firehouses for service. The number includes 352 calls for a medical assist to an EMS call and another 138 for calls that were canceled while a crew was en route.

Other fire call numbers from last year are 83 calls to vehicle accidents with no injuries, 51 calls to vehicle accidents with injuries, eight calls for extrications, 21 for wires down, 28 for unauthorized burning, 12 for authorized controlled burning and five for water-related rescues. There also were 121 calls to cover an assignment, stand by or move up to assist another fire department.

In 2011, 73 calls were to noninjury vehicle accidents, 59 to injury vehicle accidents, 15 for extrications, 34 for wires down, eight for unauthorized burning, 12 for authorized controlled burning and six for water rescues. In addition, there were 97 calls to cover an assignment, stand by or move up to assist elsewhere.

Funds Investigation

Kelley also made reference to the recent investigation into the alleged misappropriate use of fire district funds, which led to the indictment of former Chief Eric Hinson. Hinson, who served as chief for a period of time in 2011 and was board treasurer for several years prior to that, was indicted by a federal grand jury in January on one felony count of mail fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion.

Hinson’s alleged misuse of district funds from January 2006 to September 2011 totals $593,236. He is the only individual linked to the investigation.

“We’re a family,” Kelley said of the fire district personnel. “We certainly don’t like what has happened, and many of us are angry, but we’re still here, dedicated and will continue to serve the community well.

“We’re striving to do everything we can to put this all behind us,” he said. “We’re doing all we can do. It’s a hurdle we all will have to overcome.

“And, we’re doing our best to continue to show the public that we are always here for them.”

Hinson is expected to make his next court appearance on Feb. 12.