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EMS runs up even as population declines

Springfield fire chief thinks recession is responsible for most of the increase.

Medical service runs in Springfield gradually increased over the last five years and are expected to increase again this year — despite the city losing about 470 residents annually.

Meanwhile, fire runs — those which directly involved or endangered a structure — generally declined but are on track to increase over last year, a Springfield News-Sun analysis found.

An official said the recession is most likely the reason for the increase in medical runs.

Emergency medical service runs made by the Springfield Fire Rescue Division — which account for roughly 83 percent of its calls each year — increased by nearly 20 percent in 2011 over 2007, according to data it reports to the National Fire Incident Reporting System.

The city lost more than 4,700 residents between 2000 and 2010 and it’s estimated another 640 left county-wide between 2010 and 2011, according to U.S. Census statistics.

And so far this year, the division’s more than 7,500 EMS runs are well above last year pace, which was about 13,500 for the entire year.

“There’s a lot of discussion about 2008-09 when the recession started,”said Chief Nick Heimlich, who said the city experienced major changes in how people got their medical care, particularly using public services for transportation to the hospital.

“As the economy continued to devolve, joblessness increased,” Heimlich said, adding officials have seen more emotional stress among patients they treat.

“Either the transient (population) or the general population is managing their health differently, and we’re the first part of that health management curve for them,” he said.

Not all EMS runs were for Springfield residents and could have involved those who work or play in Springfield.

The expected increase in fire runs this year over 2011 could be affected by an increase of arsons of vacant homes, though it’s not clear by how much.

“There is some concern the nature some of our fire calls are impacted by larger number of vacant structures,” Heimlich said. “I wouldn’t call it a crisis, but anecdotally we have seen an increased number of (arson) fires.”

Pure fire runs declined by 22 percent from 2007 to 2008 and increased slightly by 7 and 3 percent the successive two years and dropping again by 15 percent in 2011.

Run data that combines fires runs and other responses such as gas leaks, spills and false alarms declined from 2007-09 with a 6 percent increase in 2011. Runs halfway through 2012 passed the 2011 halfway mark by more than 600.

Heimlich said trends in service runs are cyclical, noting the division also saw an increase of requests in the 1990s — which saw a brief recession in the early 1990s — before the numbers plateaued in the early 2000s.

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