An Increasing Volume of Fire Department Calls: The Importance of Call Data Analysis in Firefighter Health Investigations

Conner Howard, BS., Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Ryan McIntire, BS, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Jennifer L. Volberding, PhD, LAT, ATC, Department of Athletic Training, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Jay Dawes, PhD, FNSCA, TSAC-F., Department of Health and Human Performance, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, United States

Funding: This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Conflict of Interest: None Declared


Numerous health concerns and risk factors for firefighters have been identified, allowing for interventions that have led to various health improvements. However, high call volumes, a major health concern reported by firefighters, has not been incorporated into health investigations. In this study, we analyzed call log information that included call type, time of day, and day of week, from two suburban fire departments across a five-year period (2015-2019). Both departments had an overall increase in call volume from 2015-2019, with rescue and emergency medical services being the most frequent call type each year. On average, the highest call volumes occurred during the afternoon and the lowest call volumes occurred during late night/early morning. A call data analysis could be utilized by healthcare professionals, research personnel, and administrative personnel in various forms to further improve departmental operations, along with firefighter health and quality of life.

Keywords: Firefighter Health; Firefighter Research; Call Data Analysis; Fire Department Call Volumes; Fire Department Call Patterns; Occupational Health

1. Introduction

Firefighting is a unique occupation with a combination of factors that are detrimental to health and wellness.1-4 These factors include working shifts that are often a minimum of 24-hours, performing lifesaving duties, exposure to hazardous environments, and handling life-threatening situations.5 Evidence indicates that these work environments can produce long-term adverse effects on physical, metabolic, and cardiovascular health.6-8 Firefighters are also at a greater risk for psychological disorders due to traumatic situations, erratic sleep schedules, and repetitive exposure to pain and provocative events.9 Researchers have identified several risks and health concerns among firefighters, allowing for interventions that have led to decreased fatalities, morbidities, and injuries.3,10 However, high call volumes, a major health concern reported by firefighters, has not been efficiently incorporated into health investigations.1,4,5 A call data analysis combined with methods to mitigate health risks may allow for schedule readjustments by providing information about call types and call volume patterns, potentially improving firefighter health investigations and interventions.1,4-6

The increasing trend in department call volumes and lack of call pattern recognition are potentially major risk factors contributing to frequent schedule and sleep interruptions,11,12 further resulting in adverse health outcomes among firefighters.1,4,5 The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) collect and report fire department call data, yet there is little discussion of this data in literature.1,3,11,12 Fire departments in the United States received over 28 million calls in 2019 – a 6% increase from 2017. Among call types, emergency medical and rescue situations are the most frequent calls received. The emergent nature of some calls, as well as the various types of calls, may contribute to stress, as firefighters have reported an increasing volume of calls as a major health concern.1

Research regarding firefighter health often focuses on the nature of occupational tasks and the associated health outcomes. For example, ergonomic, musculoskeletal, and injury epidemiology studies are frequently conducted among firefighters. Call data analysis could supplement firefighter research by identifying call patterns, aiding the development of health interventions with consideration of firefighter schedules. To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate fire department call data (i.e., incident type categories and call volume). The goal of this study was to analyze fire department call data for two suburban fire departments across a five-year period to highlight the need of such methods within firefighter health research and administrative planning.

2. Methods

Two suburban fire departments in Oklahoma provided call log information from 2015-2019. Administrative personnel from the two fire departments provided five years of call log reports (2015-2019) that included, but was not limited to, incident type, time of day, and day of the week for calls. During the period of data collection, Metro One had a population of 23,216 with two fire stations, 22 full-time firefighters, and is considered a “bedroom” community with mainly residential housing and minimal commercial space. Metro One’s department responds to all fire and medical emergency calls but does not provide ambulance services. Metro Two had a population of 36,173, four fire stations, 65 full-time firefighters, and a larger amount of commercial property. Metro Two responds to all fire and medical emergency calls, while also providing ambulance services and advanced medical care. According to both fire chiefs, both departments utilize a 24-hour on and 48-hour off schedule.

Data from each department was consolidated and analyzed using Microsoft Excel (Microsoft Excel, Seattle, WA, United States). Means and standard deviations were calculated for call volumes by time of day and day of the week. Means were calculated for the number of incident types for each category (Rescue and Emergency Medical Service; Good Intent Call; False Alarm and False Call; Service Call; Fire; Hazardous Condition (No Fire); Special Incident Type; Severe Weather and Natural Disaster; Overpressure Rupture, Explosion, Overheat (No Fire); Incident Type Left Blank). The data analyses and categorization methods used in our study were adapted from USFA and NFPA reports.12,13 According to the USFA Topical Report Series, “runs” or “calls” are interchangeable terms which can be used to define a fire department’s collective response to an incident.11 We chose to use the term “call” in our study.

3. Results

Two suburban fire departments provided call log information from 2015-2019. We analyzed call volumes by time of day (Table 1; Figure 1 & 2), day of week (Table 2), year (Figure 3), and incident types (Table 3 & 4). Metro One demonstrated a 14.3% increase in call volume from 2015 to 2019, and Metro Two demonstrated a 22.2% increase in call volume during the same timeframe. Metro One received the highest volume of calls during the 14:00 hour (14:00-14:59) and Metro Two displayed the highest volume during the 16:00 hour (16:00-16:59). The lowest volume of calls from 2015-2019 for both departments occurred during the 4:00 hour (4:00-4:59). Metro One received the most calls on Mondays, Metro Two received the most calls on Fridays, and both departments received the lowest volume of calls during Sundays, from 2015-2019. Rescue and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was the most frequent incident type for both departments in our study (Metro One = 66.8%; Metro Two = 77.7%).

4. Discussion

Call data from two suburban fire departments (2015-2019) was analyzed to identify incident type and call volume frequencies. Many of the results found in this study are similar to those of national reports.11,12 From 2015-2019, rescue and emergency medical services was the most frequent call type among both departments in our study. The highest average call volume for both departments was generally observed during the afternoon hours. The lowest volume of calls per time of day generally occurred during the late night/early morning hours. The lowest volume of calls per day of the week during the five-year period analyzed were on Sundays.

Efficient and rapid response times to EMS situations have shown to be very time sensitive, as slower responses have demonstrated higher fatality rates.14 The repeated and increased physiologic and psychologic stress associated with emergent life-threatening situations may contribute to adverse health conditions among firefighter populations, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cardiovascular conditions.1,6,7 By utilizing a periodic call data analysis, an accurate estimate of call types and call type frequencies would allow associated healthcare and administrative personnel to target firefighters recurrently exposed to traumatic situations. In doing so, therapeutic health interventions could be implemented for those individuals to mitigate adverse health outcomes. Overall, the call data analysis used in this study may be utilized by healthcare practitioners and administrative personnel in various forms to improve departmental operations, with the goal of improving long-term firefighter health.

Firefighters’ fluctuating and stressful work schedules are often an underlying risk factor for many of the adverse health outcomes observed in this occupation.1,3,5,6 Using this call data analysis may provide an overarching opportunity to alleviate problems surrounding fire departments’ daily operations and scheduling. Based on the results of our study and similar findings from national reports,11 weekday afternoons can be identified as high call volume times. With this evidence, administrative personnel may attempt to avoid mandatory events during this time (weekday afternoons) to benefit firefighters and community members with increased preparedness. Low call volume times could also be used to increase readiness for high-demand emergency situations, with the goal to reduce firefighter stress risks and improve response efficiency to community demands.14 Additionally, low call volume times could be targeted to allow for department-wide activities. For example, scheduling department-wide training and health interventions on Sunday, based on results from this study, may lower interruptions from incoming calls. Additionally, departments may benefit by designating early morning hours (i.e., 6:00-8:59) for exercise, as allocated exercise time for firefighters has been a key goal highlighted by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).8,15-17 Scheduling exercise times during low call volume periods may improve exercise adherence and allow time for other wellness initiatives, ultimately improving firefighter health and quality of life.8

In general, low volume and high-volume times may be accurately estimated using call data analytics, allowing for schedule adjustments as needed for optimal working and health conditions. While the findings of this study are specific to the two agencies investigated, fire department administrative personnel may be better able to plan and schedule training, health interventions, and daily tasks for firefighters on duty by using a form of call data analysis. This may improve adherence to specific health regimens, reduce job stress, and improve time management within this population.

4.1 Strengths and Limitations

The insight this study provides regarding call volumes for the two departments investigated can be used to focus on management and healthcare strategies to improve firefighter health and quality of life. While our study may lack generalizability, due to a small sample size (two fire departments), the similarities between our study and NFIRS reports suggest that similar analyses could be conducted to aid administrative planning and scheduling for departments.11 To the authors knowledge, this study is the first to emphasize the importance of analyzing departmental call information and health among suburban fire departments. Future research into fire department call data may benefit from a larger sample size composed of more fire departments located in different geographic regions. A greater understanding of these factors may be useful in the development of healthcare and wellness interventions within these populations.

5. Conclusion

A trend of increasing call volumes was observed for both fire departments over the course of the time analyzed. The increase in call volume over time may indicate a trend that will continue, so it is important to recognize the influence of high call volumes to prevent the introduction of further unnecessary risks to firefighters. Poor cardiovascular and mental health, along with poor sleep health, could be perpetuated unless interventions are applied to alleviate these issues. Healthy firefighters and efficient response time is critical to social safety, as the occupational tasks provide invaluable medical and protective services for communities.1 Responding to calls is an increasingly frequent demand as demonstrated by findings from our study and national reports,11,12 yet fire department call data analysis has yet to be efficiently introduced into firefighter health investigation. Multiple health factors related to high call volumes have been reported as major health concerns among firefighters, further highlighting the need to investigate fire department call data.1,5,6 By identifying call patterns for fire departments, administrative scheduling and planning could be tailored to improve overall health and quality of life among firefighters.18 Further, other studies have demonstrated that health interventions for departments provide an increase in overall health and fitness, with a reduction in medical costs.8,19


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