PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – The Peoria Fire Department is having a busy year as fire-related incidents, calls, and arsons are increasing.
Between Saturday and Sunday, Peoria firefighters responded to four structure fires, three of them have since been ruled an arson by investigators.
“It was a very chaotic weekend, this is not the norm. You know, for us to have this level fires. It seems like it’s been the norm most the summer and now leading into the fall,” said Shawn Sollberger, assistant chief of Peoria Fire Department.
Sollberger said in 2021 the Peoria Fire Department is expected to receive more than 20,000 calls. This figure could put the department on pace for its most calls in a single year.
“Why that is, that’s kind of the thing internally we’re trying to figure out. Why is this call volume upticking quite the way it is? Why are fire-related incidents on such an uptick?” Sollberger said.
Ryan Brady, president of Peoria Firefighters Local 50 said structure fires were up roughly 29% during the first half of 2021 compared to 2020, but he also said firefighters are tasked with much more than just structure fires.
“There are motor vehicle accidents, there’s gunshot victims, stabbings, heart attacks, strokes,” Brady said.
Due to budget cuts, Brady said PFD is down 2 rescue squads, one engine company, and 33 firefighters on the streets. He said this can take a toll on investigators and firefighters that are available.
“Whether it’s burnout, fatigue, exhaustion, increased workplace injuries,” Brady said.
Sollberger said arsons do not help with the challenges first responders have faced.
“Dealing with human error, that’s the reason why we’re employed, we try to save lives and property, but when people are out there trying to intentionally do that and possibly cause harm to themselves, other citizens, and firefighters themselves, it’s kind of tough,” Sollberger said.
To help the fire department, Sollberger asks the community to say something if you see something that may be a potential fire or arson risk.
“Stay persistent, keep making those phone calls so eventually at some point those resources will be available to address the issue,” Sollberger said.
Sollberger and Brady both said talks with city officials have progressed to bring Fire Engine 2 back into service. If discussions stay on the right path, the engine company could be available at the start of 2022.