Suspected or known homelessness activity contributed to 39% of fires in November and December last year, according to the Kern County Fire Department’s 2021 Annual Report, which compiles statistics from the work of the agency.
The upsurge in reported fires in areas frequented by homeless people prompted county fire departments to begin collecting this statistic for the first time in November, KCFD public information officer Erica Bain said Friday. She estimates that about 44% of fires since January 2022 can be traced to suspected or known homeless people.
Additionally, the number of incidents, responses and call volume in 2021 surpassed 2020 statistics, making it another record-breaking year, according to the report.
“During the 2021 calendar year, the Kern County Fire Department responded to a record number of emergencies,” according to a news release attached to the annual report, which was released Wednesday evening. “This annual report is a brief snapshot of the tremendous amount of work done by the men and women of this fire department.”
The total number of incidents has increased by 10% since 2020, according to the report. There were 62,718 incidents and 95,218 responses in 2021. Throughout 2020, there were 57,055 incidents and 87,837 responses.
Fires accounted for 5,329 of the total number of incidents, while 39,408 incidents were classified as a medical emergency or a rescue last year. In 2020, 32,557 of the incidents were qualified as a medical or lifesaving emergency. Bain added that the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for medical attention had a big impact on this statistic in 2020, but in 2021 the effect was not as dramatic.
In 2020, KCFD had a banner year for responses, leading the agency to use 101,996 hours of equipment, a whopping 249% increase since 2019, according to The Californian’s previous report. In 2021, that stat fell to 32,611 hours, the KCFD report said. An equipment hour refers to the time that the various vehicles and personnel have to work when incidents occur.
Bain said a lot of equipment was delivered outside of Kern County in 2020, which contributed to the major increase. The KCFD spent about 80,000 hours outside of Kern County helping to fight the wildfires, according to department data. That year was considered the largest recorded wildfire season in modern California history, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The need for emergency services countywide is 53% higher than it was 10 years ago. However, the annual report notes that the equipment and personnel at Kern’s 47 stations remain the same.
The KCFD created the Firefighter Recruitment Assistance Program in an effort to attract applicants from local communities, Bain wrote in an email. There are recruiting events in Bakersfield, Arvin, Taft, Ridgecrest and Tehachapi. Zoom meetings were available for those unable to attend an in-person meeting, she added.
A one-day boot camp for women interested in the fire service is also in the works, Bain wrote. Another program allows part-time or seasonal firefighters to become full-time firefighters, she added.
Last year, the County Fire Department started with new management staff. KCFD chief Aaron Duncan’s goal was to fully staff the agency, Bain noted, while adding that they “are very close to that goal.” The Kern County Board of Supervisors also allowed the county fire department to spend $9 million on new equipment, she said.
Emergency Communications Center call volume increased by 9.2% in 2021, with 500,210 total calls. In 2020, there were 458,213 calls in total. To compensate for the increase in demand, Bain said four new positions have been added to the center.
“With the number of calls we were getting, our firefighters were fatigued and needed more time to rest and recuperate,” Bain wrote, adding that the department’s new hires have helped tremendously in maintaining staffing levels. .
The county’s biggest incident of 2021 was the French Fire, which destroyed 26,535 acres between August and September. The report states that 912 buildings were saved by spending 16,360 man hours. The personnel assigned to the fire totaled 246 people.
You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.