Fire Chief Bill Halmich

If Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich could give the fire department a grade for 2013, he said it would be in the A range.

“People would say I’m prejudiced, but I’m looking at the level of customer service we provide, the loss reduction we have, and the cost it takes to do that. We’re definitely in the A category,” he said.

Halmich sat down with The Missourian to discuss the trends and the department’s multiyear statistical comparison. The report is multifaceted and each statistic must be analyzed, he said.

“It becomes then, a report card for the fire department organizational culture. It becomes a guide for prevention activities and compliance enforcement and it becomes a report card for the community as to what issues are widespread and what issues are isolated,” Halmich said.

The Washington Fire Department has a total of 70 volunteer firefighters, all who are state certified, pass an entry level physical and drug screening and random drug testing.

The department’s budget is about $750,000. Insurance and dispatching accounts for about $70,000 and $68,000 respectively, Halmich said.

The department is responsible for three fire stations, a training center, three engines, a reserve engine, a ladder truck, rescue squad and a number of support vehicles.

Fire Calls

In 2013, the number of calls dropped to 549, compared to 634 in 2012 and 712 in 2011.

One of the biggest reasons for the drop in that number is the implementation and enforcement of property maintenance codes, Halmich said, noting that the number has improved to almost that of 1989, when there were about 500 calls.

Halmich said that is because of the integrity of growth in the community, the fire response has decreased.

“Fewer fire responses means less property loss and less operational expenses for the fire department,” he said.

He added that the overall numbers support the belief that the level of service the department provides “far exceeds the cost associated with it.”

The busiest day of the week for fire responses in 2013 was Saturday, with roughly 20 percent of calls coming in on a Saturday.

A total of 67 percent of calls happened between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The Washington Fire Department is a Class 3 professional volunteer fire department. The day and time of calls “keeps us within the scope of a volunteer organization,” Halmich said.

Having a volunteer department is the most cost-effective way to handle fire protection, but it only works because of the volunteers and because local businesses allow employees who are firemen to leave for fire calls, he added.

The most common type of response in 2013 was for vehicle rescues and accidents, in which there were a total of 102 responses.

At those accidents, the department had on-scene time of 491 hours, or about 4,910 man-hours since about 10 men respond to each call.

The total number of personnel responding to calls was 5,025 men in 2013, down from 5,979 in 2012. Firefighters sign in at each scene.

“One of the fire department’s primary missions is to put themselves out of work,” Halmich said. “What we’ve done over time in working with community leaders, is for 161 years — we have kept with a prudent approach to fire protection within the realm of a cost-effective, professional volunteer fire department.”

Responders spent a total of 604 hours on scene in 2013.

Structure Fires

In 2013, there were a total of seven working structure fires.

Manpower increased from 433.81 hours in 2012 to 604.15 in 2013.

Halmich noted that there is an average of 15 to 18 personnel on a first alarm fire.

Like in 2012, there were no second alarm or greater fires in 2013.

If a fire goes beyond the capability of two pumpers, a ladder truck, rescue squad and support equipment it is considered a second alarm.

The reduction of working fires puts greater emphasis on the need for “in context training,” for firefighters.

The training center and burn facility is a necessity for newer firefighters with less on the job training.

Response Times

The national goal for fire personnel to be on the scene is five minutes. Washington’s department is under that goal, with an average response time of 4.07 minutes, compared to 4.14 minutes in 2012.

Response time for rural calls was 6.49 minutes in 2013, down from 7.20 minutes in 2012. Halmich noted that the higher number is because of drive time to get to rural locations.

About 10 years ago, Washington implemented an “on the quiet” response system for certain types of emergencies, such as a carbon monoxide detector sounding with no symptoms.

On the quiet responses bump up the average response time.

False Alarms

In 2013, Halmich said the department went to 93 false alarms of automatic alarm systems, sprinkler flows or other alarms.

That equated to 176 hours of on scene time, or 1,760 man-hours responding to false alarms.

Halmich said there were about 20 instances when the department went to the same location more than once for a false alarm.

Those occupancies with repeated alarm problems will be reviewed and the department will work on repairing those. It is a goal to decrease the number of false alarms in 2014. The city has a false alarm ordinance, where a fine can be imposed, however, everyone currently is allowed one false alarm without paying a penalty.

Halmich said he would like to have the code amended so service vendors working on alarms don’t have protection. Often, the service vendors didn’t follow proper protocol and that led to a false alarm.

Mutual Aid

In 2013, the department received mutual aid 12 times, compared to 21 times in 2012.

A majority of those were for tankers and brush trucks for use in rural areas, Halmich said.

The department went to other districts 62 times in 2013, down from 82 times in 2012.

The number of responses to hazardous conditions decreased from 93 in 2012 to 84 in 2013. In 2011, there were 139 responses to hazardous conditions.

Halmich attributed the response to Ameren being proactive in tree-trimming.


Halmich stressed individual and family preparation in case of catastrophic weather or other events in which emergency personnel may not be readily available.

He encourages people to visit, which was established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help people prepare for various events.

“I can’t emphasize preparedness enough when it comes to catastrophic events,” he said.

Halmich reminded people to have working smoke alarms, with at least one in each bedroom and one in the kitchen.

Discovery and notification of smoke are the two most important aspects of loss prevention, he said.