High call volume keeps Sherman Fire Dept. busy

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SHERMAN, Texas -- Sherman firemen are often busy answering calls during their 24-hour shift. But in a special report, News 12 revealed that the Sherman FD is answering thousands more calls than towns of a similar size.

In 2013, Sherman FD responded to just over 6,200 calls for service. That includes everything from fire to medical to false alarm calls.

"The number of calls, divided by the number of people we have is about 97 calls per man per year," Fire Chief Jeff Jones said.

For perspective, combined, the towns of Ada and Ardmore, Okla. have a similar population to Sherman -- roughly 40,000 people.

But even when you combine the amount of calls the Ada and Ardmore fire departments responded to in 2013, it's about 3,000 less than Sherman.

Chief Jones said there's multiple reasons why the Sherman Fire Dept. responds to so many calls.

"Highway 75, Highway 82. contribute to [the number of calls]. High speed roadways," he said. "We respond to a lot of motor vehicle accidents, a lot of trauma."

Older buildings also pose a greater fire risk, and a popular retirement area means more medical calls.

In 2013, medical calls accounted for 60 percent of all 6,200 calls.

"Two or three times a day I have no ambulances available in the city because they're all out on calls," Jones said.

The Sherman FD runs its own ambulance service, which could also add to the high call volume.Currently, just three are ambulances based out of Stations 3, 4 and 5.

In some towns across the U.S., like Muskogee, Okla., which also has a comparable population to Sherman, the fire department does not respond to all medical calls.

Rather, firemen respond only to critical/trauma medical calls, and a county-wide ambulance service handles the more minor medical calls.

Or in Tarrant County, Texas, where MedStar EMS handles medicals calls.

The more than 6,200 calls puts a big weight on the shoulders of Sherman firemen.

"The fatigue of running back to back to back calls does get to us," Captain Mason Beaver tells News 12. "It's just something we've become accustomed to and have learned to deal with."

"We're treading water. We're keeping our head barely above water," Jones said.

Jones explained that his job is to maintain a balance of responding to calls both efficiently and effectively, and that's often a hard balance.

But there's another issue -- currently, the department is down six firemen, according to Jones.

And what's more, Sherman FD is expected to lose a few more by the end of the year due to retirements.

Jones said recruiting firemen is difficult, because many of the northern DFW cities offer not only a bigger paycheck than Sherman, but the amount of calls per man per year is significantly less.

For Sherman firemen, base pay begins at roughly $31,000. And, as the Jones noted, one Sherman firemen works upwards of 97 calls per year.

But a short distance away in Allen, Texas, base pay begins at about $43,000. And one Allen fireman only works an estimated 44 calls per year.

News 12 asked the Mayor Cary Wacker of Sherman what the city is doing to help out the fire department.

"The Sherman City Council took on several initiatives this year to look at strategic decisions for the future for the growth that we're experiencing. And one of those pressing needs will be a new fire station," Wacker said.

There's no set plans for the new station right now, she explained, because the city must first determine where the best location to build the new station would be.

That would, in turn, be based on where a high number of calls are coming from within the city.

Wacker told News 12 the station will likely be built on the northern side of Sherman, close to the Towne Center.

When asked if the new station will house an additional ambulance, she could not give a definitive answer, but did say that the fire department needs it.

"We've known for a couple of years this was going to come up, but this was the year we chose to move forward and actually getting the process going," Wacker said.

She said the new budget year begins on October 1, and that's when city council will begin to allocate a budget toward this fire station project.

As for a timeline on the new station, Wacker said it could be built within the next year or two.