Firefighters got a little bit of a break last year, according to a report released last week by Amherst fire chief Wayne Northeim.
The number of calls for help handled by the city’s fire professionals dropped to 422 in 2013, down a whopping 52 (about 11 percent) from the previous year.
It was a great year, with only 11 structure fires and no deaths or injuries reported from fires, Northeim said.
He beamed Thursday as he pored over the results of his department’s annual report with the News-Times.
“Either prevention is working — which I’d like to say it is because we try very hard — or people are generally getting smarter about the dangers that can lead to fires,” he said. “Either way, I’m happy.”
Flames took a $396,500 toll on homes, garages, and other buildings last year. Damages mounted to just $5,100 for vehicle fires.
Amherst was called out 110 times as first responders — a number that in most years tops 140.
Also in 2013, there were 83 motor vehicle crashes, 61 false alarms, 28 electrical problems that needed AFD attention, 10 grass and brush fires, nine gas leaks, six open burning violations, five trash fires, and two extrications, among other miscellaneous calls for help.
One type of call Northeim said he was especially relieved to avoid last year: bomb threats. There had been several in recent memory, including a couple made at local schools.
Calls for the year broke down with 336 within the city limits and 86 to Amherst Township.
Northeim said the overall number of emergency situations his firefighters handle has dropped considerably in recent years after peaking at 545 in 2008.
But that could change as 2014 goes on. The chief said January was an especially tough month with two home fires battled in severely cold conditions.
The first came Jan. 7 when a mobile home burned just off Quarry Road. The second was in the early morning hours of Jan. 9 on Dewey Road, and was ruled a total loss.
“When it’s sub-zero degrees out, nothing works right,” Northeim said. “You try to fight (flames) as best you can, but it’s not easy. Everybody struggles in this weather.”
He aims to make several improvements to the Church Street fire station as he prepares for retirement in less than two years.
Northeim said the biggest goal for 2014 is finishing the replacement of the station roof (half was completed last year), followed by upgrades to the lighting system inside.
There are also fixes and upgrades needed at the AFD’s storage station on Maple Street, he said.
Those repairs and maintenance projects wouldn’t be possible without a levy that was renewed last spring. Northeim said he is grateful to voters to supporting the measure.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or on Twitter at @EditorHawk.