ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke Fire-EMS said the COVID-19 pandemic led to more fires and fewer medical emergencies in 2020.
Chief David Hoback announced it as part of his annual presentation to city council. Even with those statistics, Hoback said overall the year was average, with calls down just 1.4% overall. The department also met all its key performance metrics as required for accreditation.
EMS calls were down during the height of the COVID lockdown, but the number of working fires increased to 71 from 60 in 2019. While that figure is still in line with a multi-year rolling average, Hoback said cooking and warming fires accounted for the increase.
“The homeless population normally goes to the rescue mission or to the salvation army to bed down for the night, with the COVID, they wouldn’t go in, they wanted to stay someplace where they felt safe,” Hoback said. “We weren’t even taking them to the hospital like we normally would. So with that, warming fires and cooking fires within those vacant dwellings became a problem for us.”
The chief also said overdoses were up 30% over the year prior. He and the council agreed opioids remain a problem in the city and the region.
Hiring remains a priority for the department. Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem and Botetourt County all recruit as a team and participate in a joint recruit school. They hope to have 40 people in the next recruit class come this fall.