SYCAMORE – Despite the challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, Sycamore fire officials said they were able to continue providing emergency services in fiscal year 2021, according to the department’s most recent annual report.
For the presentation of the fiscal year 2021 annual report, Sycamore Fire Chief Pete Polarek said he wanted to center around how the COVID-19 pandemic affected overall operations from May 1, 2020 through April 30, 2021. In order to understand the numbers in the annual report, Polarek said to aldermen on Monday they “probably need to know that this was a significant factor.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all individually and it elicited a lot of responses – fear, uncertainty, disruption to your normal life – to a certain degree, isolation,” Polarek said during the Monday City Council meeting. “Many more adjectives can be used out there. However, when you take that basic premise and you overlay it over a response organization like ours, you have first responder issues as well as the ability of the organization to provide those services within a challenging environment.”
Polarek recalled personal protective equipment, or PPE, like face masks and hand sanitizers being hard to come by at the beginning of the pandemic. Pre-COVID-19, he said, the standard of care was emergency responders wearing rubber gloves and, post-COVID-19, the standard evolved to face masks and disposable gown-wearing.
“We went through a lot of PPE,” Polarek said. “Fortunately, we had a good supply to start.”
According to the annual report, the department experienced a decline – 94 less calls than the previous fiscal year – in requests for emergency services and 25 less calls for non-fire responses. There were 2,380 calls for emergency medical services and 336 calls for non-fire responses in fiscal year 2021, the report read.
Fire officials attributed the decline to “citizens’ disease exposure concerns or from the change in routine behavior” from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the first downturn ... in requests for emergency service since fiscal year 2015,” the report states. “Up until this fiscal year ... we had seen an average growth of requests in emergency service at 3.85% per year.”
However, the Sycamore Fire Department saw a slight increase in fire responses during fiscal year 2021, according to the annual report. There were 77 fire suppression response calls in fiscal year 2021, which was four more than the previous year, the report states.
“And of those structure fires that we saw, they seem to be all bad,” Polarek said during the Monday meeting. “Every one of them was significant.”
Some of the more noteworthy emergency responses in fiscal year 2021 included a structure fire at a multi-unit townhouse building at 1542 Timberwood Court, a structure fire at a commercial structure at 126 E. State Street, a structure fire at a multi-unit townhouse building at 942 Arvle Circle and a structure fire at a single-family residential unit at 322 W. Exchange Street, according to the annual report.
Polarek said he believes that society as a whole is a lot smarter now about taking precautions against contagious illnesses as opposed to a year ago, when scientific findings about the coronavirus and corresponding health and safety guidance were evolving a lot more rapidly.
“Although, we’re cautious – I think I speak for most of us here that we’re pretty cautious, because we’re not sure what the future holds,” Polarek said. “Hopefully, with the amount of vaccines that are out there, this little up tick in cases may be just short term.”