AYER — Emergency service calls are now nearly two-thirds of the Fire Department’s operations.
That was one point of focus for fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi as he talked about his department. The conversation took place before the Moore lumber fire, which served to pinpoint the high-level firefighting capabilities of the chief and his department.
While the department has been providing ambulance services in Ayer since 1940, it’s only in the last three years that those services have been outpacing its fire and rescue services.
“The reason is two-fold,” said fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi. “We’ve added an assisted-living facility and an over-55 community since 2005, and our Emergency Medical Services (EMS) group began operating at the paramedic level on Jan. 1, 2005.”
These two developments increased demand for Ayer’s EMS group dramatically, he said.
In 2004, the number of EMS calls, involving the department’s ambulances only, was 543. By 2007, it had risen to 1,046.
The change in 2005 to the commonwealth’s authorization and licensing of the department’s service level meant there was an added demand on top of the demand the additional senior communities created, said Pedrazzi.
The paramedic level of service, under which paramedics can dispense drugs and handle cardiac problems according to commonwealth guidelines, also increased demand from other municipalities, he said.
EMS companies responding to a call for services beyond their state-licensed levels — for instance paramedic-level services — must call a company, such as the fire department, to provide those services, he said.
“As a result, we’re much busier because we’re doing more with the same number of officers we’ve had since 1996,” said Pedrazzi.
Even so, the department’s average response time in town is under five minutes.
“And that’s because we’re manned 24 hours a day every day of the year, and we’re relatively small geographically,” he said.
While the department operates at the paramedic level, it also provides services at the two lower service levels.
The second level is the Emergency Medical Technician Intermediate (EMTI) level. EMTIs can render life-saving services that require intravenous fluids. They can also perform intubation, which involves inserting rubber tubing through the patient’s mouth to his lungs.
The lowest EMS level is the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) level, which is basic lifesaving service.
Ayer’s five paramedics perform EMS services at all three levels, said Pedrazzi. All of its 37 full-time and on-call firefighters perform EMS services at the EMT level, he said.
When not providing EMS, firefighting or rescue operations, the staff trains.
“We train constantly,” said Pedrazzi. “Our EMTs train monthly, and our others all train twice a month in EMS, firefighting and rescue operations.
“Our firefighters must be re-certified every two years,” he said. “And we’re a highly-motivated bunch, too. One of our officers attaining a higher level of expertise and proficiency motivates the others to do it, too.”
And such diligence warrants keeping the equipment in the best shape possible, he said.
“All our equipment’s in decent shape, but our no. 2 ambulance, after 11 years, is actually around the end of its forecasted effective life,” said Pedrazzi. “Even though it’s our backup vehicle, it went out 61 times last year, and it’s showing signs of its age. We’d like to replace it as soon as the town’s able.”
In addition to its emergency, firefighting and rescue services, Pedrazzi pointed to the department’s relationship with the community with enthusiasm.
“We’re part of the schools’ program to teach basic fire prevention,” he said. “We teach fire safety as part of the health-education program.
“We have a trailer which houses a mobile classroom that we take to the schools to teach the kids about preventing fires and managing the situation if it does come up,” he said. “With the simulated environment the trailer provides, we teach them, showing them everything from calling 911 to crawling to safety under the smoke. The kids really love it.”
The department conducts fire prevention and safety education at the senior center also, said Pedrazzi.
“And a month ago we held our second annual ham-and-bean dinner at the fire station,” he said. “We put it on with the Council on Aging. We cooked the main course, and COA provided the beverages and desserts. Afterward, we provided a tour of the station.”
The station tours are a centerpiece of the department’s community outreach program and a popular event, said Pedrazzi, especially with children. But when the outreach and training is done, he said it gets down to the calls.
“We get everything,” said Pedrazzi. “Everything from unlocking cars and houses to animal rescues — like the time we helped a cat with its head stuck in reclining-chair mechanism — to clearing bats out of houses.”
Part of the excitement is never knowing what a call is going to turn up, he said.
“Our philosophy is simple,” he said. “If you’re having a bad day, we’ll make it better.”