Letter: Clarification on term usage

Last month, I had the opportunity to give a presentation to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on the fire department operations, structure and future needs. The Chamber includes a very diverse and outstanding group of individuals and businesses. It was an honor to meet and talk with them.

While discussing the future needs of the department; I brought up the need for us to staff an additional ambulance. While trying to paint a mental picture of the real needs of the department, I used the term “silver tsunami” that some people took offense to. It was a term that was picked up from classes, articles and other presentations on the future of EMS.

I had no intention to disrespect anyone in my presentation. In retrospect, I can see where the phrase could be taken to have a negative connotation. I have a great deal of respect for the people who built and pioneered the Juneau that we get to enjoy today. It is a privilege for all of us in emergency services to have the opportunity to serve our community in this unique way. To anyone I have offended, I apologize for my choice of phrasing.

My intention of that portion of the presentation was to show our incident volume has risen from 1,800 incidents per year in the year 2000 to almost 4,000 incidents per year without a significant staffing increase. One of the most prevalent demographics is the number of medical incidents for people from 50 years of age to 59 years of age. That demographic makes up 24 percent of our responses; this includes the visitors that come to Juneau every year. This is not unique to Juneau: It is a national trend.

This statistic is not to point a finger and place blame on anyone for increased incident volume. Increased volume is part of life and living in a vibrant community. The intent is merely pointing out the demographics and demands of our community are constantly changing and all emergency services need to change and adapt to serve the needs and demands of the public.

The fire department’s mission is to “Serve and protect our community from life- and property-threatening emergencies in a competent, professional and proactive manner.”

We take that mission seriously and take a lot of pride in doing it well. We are truly servants to our community. When someone calls 911, we will work with whatever tools and resources we have to take care of them to the absolute best of our abilities.

This single demographic is not the sole cause of increased incidents. There are countless other things that contribute to the service demands. We have seen an increase of visitors, the backcountry is more accessible than ever, and people are out and exploring more of our community. Drug and alcohol-related calls have increased; trauma-related calls are more frequent; the number of general medical calls is constantly rising. To state any single cause for the increase in incidents would be irresponsible.

CCFR is here to serve and protect our community. This includes everyone regardless of gender, age, race, religion, income or even life choices. Our job is to treat the immediate needs of anyone needing services. We will always try and make your worst day just a little bit better. This is your fire department. Please feel free to come visit us any time. We are always happy to have visitors and answer any questions we can.

Rich Etheridge,

Fire Chief, Juneau