Fire & Rescue calls down about 15% last week in Montgomery County
Fire chief says people are calling doctors instead of 911 during COVID-19 pandemic
Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein
Montgomery County Fire & Rescue calls went down about 15% last week due to changes in people’s behavior since the coronavirus disease outbreak started this month, an official said.
Fire & Rescue typically runs 350 to 400 calls per day, which includes both fire and EMS, spokesman Pete Piringer told Bethesda Beat. But most days last week, that number was less than 300, he said.
The number of coronavirus cases in Montgomery County increased from 32 on March 15 to 51 on March 20. Last week also featured a number of new restrictions ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan, including the closure of bars, restaurants and malls; limits on the use of public transportation; and limiting the size of gatherings to 10 people.
The decrease in calls, Piringer said, is related partially to the trend of more people calling their doctor instead of 911 when they feel sick. Additionally, Piringer said, fewer cars on the road has meant fewer crashes.
Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said on Friday that social distancing — the practice of not getting too close to others — hasn’t stopped people from getting sick or injured. But the guidance from the county and others for people to contact their primary care physician first to see if they should be tested for coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, has led to fewer EMS calls.
“It could be the additional information and support of people using other tools for medical treatment, and not relying on 911,” he said. “Meaning, we have pushed and pushed and pushed, if you have X, Y and Z, call your doctor. There has been such a push to call your primary care physician, that where they may have previously called us when they felt a sign and symptom, now they’re calling their primary care [physician].”
Goldstein added that as people continue to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible that the number of calls stemming from distracted incidents at home could rise, such as kitchen fires.
“Maybe you’re at home teleworking, and you decide to put something on the stove, and you get a call from work and you get distracted. Those circumstances would not surprise me to occur while we have such high level of home-based work occurring,” he said.
Goldstein said that as of last week, the department had not seen a rise in residential fires. He said the department hasn’t undertaken a thorough analysis yet of how the coronavirus pandemic has altered the types of calls that have increased or decreased.
Both Goldstein and Piringer said similar decreases in the number of calls sometimes happen during inclement weather events when people are stuck at home.
Piringer said in this case, the drop in calls has occurred because people are “trying to figure out what their new normal is.”
“I think it’s probably a combination of all those things, but basically their normal routines are disrupted, and the call volume that goes along with that is also seeing a disruption,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org