If you thought you heard more sirens than usual in Affton this year, you weren’t wrong.
officials say Affton’s growing population of seniors put their single ambulance to work an additional 300 EMS calls in 2011. It is this trend—likely to continue as yet more senior living centers open in the area—that prompted the district to put a tax increase on the April ballot for voter approval.
The $0.26 tax levy would bring in an additional $1.27 million in revenue, which Chief Jim Fritz said would be used to add an additional ambulance to Affton Fire's fleet and hire six new staff to man it.
“This isn’t for the firefighters to get a raise,” Captain Ben Waser said. “This is for something that is desperately needed in our community.”
How big is the need? In 2010 the district ran 2,732 emergency medical calls. In 2011 that number jumped to 3,017. The ambulance is also sent out on some fire and non-EMS calls, for a total of 3,152 runs in 2011. According to the district, the ambulance is currently operating at above normal rates; other districts can only comfortably run a similar number of calls with three ambulances.
The district attributes much of the jump in traffic to the new Crestview Senior Living Center. In a presentation about the tax proposal at the Affton School Board meeting on Tuesday, Captain Steve Davila said the district often makes several trips a day to the Grant Road senior facility.
And calls are only going to grow as new senior centers are added to the area, including a sister facility to Crestview, , and The Village at Mackenzie Place, a Lutheran Senior Services facility .
“We are guessing a couple hundred more calls over the next year,” Waser said of the need generated by the new senior centers.
When the district’s ambulance is out on a call and another call comes in, the district turns to its neighboring fire districts for mutual aid assistance. In 2011 799 calls were handled by mutual aid ambulances. The district’s ambulance also ran 370 mutual aid calls. But relying on mutual aid can mean small delays in response times as first responders may have further to travel.
This new levy is the recommendation of the district’s community-based strategic planning committee, which included representatives from the Affton and Bayless school districts, the St. Louis County police and the Affton Chamber of Commerce. The group met for several day-long meetings last fall to discuss the future of the district.
Adding a new ambulance is not a one-time expense. Because of the heavy use they see, ambulances must be replaced about every five years. They must also be stocked with medical supplies that the district pays for. Similarly hiring new EMTs doesn’t just mean paying for their salaries. The district must buy and maintain equipment for the new staff, and may need to make improvements or expansions to its living facilities to accommodate additional bodies. In particular the Number 2 house on Valcour Avenue, where the new ambulance may be housed, has not been renovated since 1962.
The last tax levy passed by the Affton Fire District was in 2002, which paid for badly needed renovations at the district’s main fire house. The district asked for an increase two years ago to help maintain its pension fund, but voters did not approve the measure.
Though firefighters are not allowed to promote the ballot measure while on duty, off duty Affton firefighters have been organizing a campaign to get the word out about the proposed levy. Firefighters will be speaking at meetings around the district and have set up a Facebook page for their cause. The firefighters said they have so far received a positive response to their campaign.
Proposition A will be put to a vote on April 3.