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As part of the preparation of the fiscal year 2021-22 budget, the city of Peoria’s fire-medical and police station officials gave an overview and reports of their efforts, statistics and updates during 2020 through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the recent death of the retired Peoria Fire Capt. David Rehnke due to kidney cancer, Rob Brewster, deputy chief of administrative and support services division, revealed cancer is the leading cause in line-of-duty deaths in firefighters. 

“The most recent data pulled from the International Association of Fire Fighters in 2019 shows that 75% are cancer caused,” Brewster said. 

Since 2017, the Peoria Fire-Medical department has ramped up efforts to reduce firefighter exposures to the known carcinogens.

“Through our health and wellness committee, we have a cancer prevention work group that falls under that, and they are dedicated to doing research so that we can make informed decisions, educating our members and putting together training for our members,” Brewster said.

EMS Division Deputy Chief Jim Bratcher said a new ambulance was added in January 2020, followed by five additional paramedics.

“It’s been a challenging year,” Bratcher said. 

“We responded to over 20,000 calls related to EMS. Of that, we did over 7,000 transports with our ambulance services. We added the fifth ambulance in January thanks to (city council) support and guidance.”

Bratcher outlined how the pandemic has affected the EMS division.

“As I mentioned, the pandemic has caused us to change a lot of what we do or approach it differently,” Bratcher said. “We have implemented and trained on all new COVID-19 protocols. The state developed new protocols that involved patient treatment protocols, triage protocols and decontamination protocols. We implemented those very quickly at the beginning of the pandemic.”

Bratcher discussed the supply of important PPE and the challenge it presented.

“We did extensive training on appropriate PPE use, not only for our personnel but for our equipment and the safety of the patients that we serve,” he said. “We secured sufficient PPE, which was a challenge at the very beginning. It still remains somewhat of a challenge.”

As the department is required to maintain their continued education and training requirements, Bratcher said social distancing presented issues.

“We moved to a virtual format primarily with the teleconference options. We managed to keep up to date with all our training through that. … That was quite a challenge at the very beginning. There was a lot coming at us, and we needed to keep up,” Bratcher said.

Funded by the CARES Act, the department instituted a Peoria-specific, full-time community paramedicine program.

“That funding came to us in July. By August, we had 27 members trained specifically for community paramedicine, and we’re up and running full time,” Bratcher said. 

Bratcher outlined the program’s five-month statistics.

“To date, it’s a little over five months of full-time operation with community paramedicine. We’ve had over 750 patient contacts. Over 200 home visits and 86 referrals to outside agencies,” Bratcher said.

The department partnered with Maricopa County Department of Health to administer flu vaccinations to 1,289 Peoria residents.

“It truly became a citywide effort that we were able to institute community flu vaccinations,” Bratcher said. “We were happy and fortunate to be able to do with the resources at the community paramedicine program.”

The Peoria Police Department presented the effects on its resources, phone call volumes and budget overview during the pandemic. 

“We’ve been very compliant with the request from our city managers and deputy city managers to buckle down on our budget to make sure the public receives the service they require and be fiscally responsible,” said Police Chief Arthur Miller.

Miller explained that teams in the city were asked to reduce their budgets.

“We have reallocated $250,949 from our budget to ensure our vehicles are up to speed and that they are properly equipped,” said Miller. “We also have in the budget to civilianize one position that was formerly a police officer position, and now we want to add a civilian information specialist.”

Miller presented a staffing update, mentioning the “streamlining” of the recruiting and hiring process.

“I’ve been saying for a couple years now that every month it just keeps getting better,” he explained. “We have a staff now that has received additional training on how to recruit qualified candidates and how to train them once hired.”

Giving a crime stats update, Miller said the department implemented schedule changes.

“Going back to the matrix report three years ago, some of the suggestions were a modification of the start times for officers. We’ve implemented that and that has been received well,” Miller said. “This is a work in progress, but I am pleased with the way it’s working out. It does reduce our overtime to some degree.”

Miller revealed there was a reduction of calls for service between 2019 to 2020, with 71,000 during 2020. 

“That, I believe, has a little to do with people staying home. On one hand, it could create different kinds of calls or an increase in family type calls versus crime calls,” Miller said.

His department’s response time continues to be below the national average, even though it’s “very busy.”

“We’re handling all the calls we can,” he said. “They are hovering right below the national average, so I’m comfortable with the amount of calls that we’re receiving and then the quickness with which we’re handling those calls.”