Knoxville — Knoxville Fire Chief Jim Mitchell welcomed Congressman Dave Loebsack and wife, Terry, to the fire station Saturday afternoon, April 12.
Loebsack had heard of the many changes the department has undergone in the past few years, including the increased number of paid staff. Mitchell shared more information regarding the status of the department, as well as his own personal background.
The department handled 1,654 calls last year. Of those, Mitchell estimated that maybe 100 were for fires. Assistant Chief Greg Higginbotham added that the number of calls the department has responded to, in 2014 thus far, is higher than it was at this point in 2013. Higginbotham said the number of calls was 100 higher.
"We're really busy on EMS," Mitchell said.
For now, the department intends to keep its staffing "status quo." The department has approximately 30 paid on call volunteers. Availability of volunteers, for fire departments and organizations everywhere, is becoming limited.
Loebsack asked how many of the transfers, performed by the EMS side of the department, were for psychiatric calls. Mitchell replied, "A ton." Not all of them are for Knoxville's veteran population. Younger residents in the area have also required transfers for mental health and substance abuse issues.
Mitchell explained to Loebsack the department's needs for new vehicles and equipment. The ambulances purchased in 2001 and 2004 will soon need to be replaced. Knoxville budgeted $142,000 for a third ambulance in 2012.
While touring hte fire station, Mitchell showed Loebsack some of the restrictions of the current building, including the lack of showers for women, the need for lockers and a training room.
"We're bulging at the seams," Mitchell said. "We need a new fire station."
He added that he is aware that the City does its best with the funds available and that every City department has needs. Loebsack suggested that there may be grants available to help the fire department with some of its needs. Mitchell and his staff intend to work with Loebsack's staff to apply for some of them.
Loebsack thanked Mitchell and Higginbotham for the tour and information.
"Local fire departments are absolutely critical," Loebsack said. "There are things we can do at the federal level." Loebsack's full comments, with Mitchell, are in the video accompanying this story.
"It's been a good meeting today," Mitchell said. "I appreciate (Loebsack's) help."
Mitchell went on to say that, in his 30 years in the fire service, this was the first time a Congressman has made the effort to speak with him and learn more about a department.