‘Silver tsunami’ puts CCFR in hot seat

In 15 years, Juneau’s population has only increased by roughly 2,000 people. In that same time period, the rate of emergency calls has more than doubled.

According to Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Richard Etheridge, the reason for what will surely be a record-breaking year of EMS calls is a “silver tsunami” brought on my Juneau’s aging population.

During the Juneau Chamber of Commerce weekly luncheon Thursday, guest speaker Etheridge gave the crowd some alarming data. In 2000, CCFR responded to 1,875 total incidents, 1,453 of which were EMS calls. So far this year that total is 3,546 and 2,712, respectively.

“The guys don’t have a whole lot of downtime, and they’ve got training on top of responding to those calls,” Etheridge said of his thinly-spread response team.

On average, Etheridge said his crew of 33 full-time firefighters and the fluctuating group of volunteers respond to 11 calls a day. That number spikes during tourist season to 35.

Per capita, Juneau firefighters are busier than the downtown Anchorage crew where more than 300 firefighters are employed, Etheridge said. Not only are more senior citizens calling with slips and falls, but increased cardiac arrests due to unhealthy lifestyles are also a concern.

“We’re doing about 25 cardiac arrests a year,” Etheridge said. With this bit of bad news, he still boasted about the department’s 43 percent save-rate on such calls, an impressive figure next to the national average of 10.6 percent. A response is considered a “save” after a person is discharged from the hospital.

“Some of the stuff we’re doing on the medical side has been impressive,” Etheridge said.

Despite this progress, Etheridge emphasized the department is actively seeking out volunteers to help a slow-to-grow staff. In 15 years the department has only had one new hire, and that was Etheridge.

“They’re definitely getting pushed to their limits,” Etheridge said. Also getting pushed to the limit is the department’s shrinking budget. The cost of running the department last year was $8,751,600. The limited revenue options — EMS fees and selling old vehicles — generated $2,481,452 for the city.

Etheridge said on the horizon for the department is finding a way to help the under-served Lemon Creek area, which is the furthest from all the stations. Doing this on a limited budget is the challenge.

Also upcoming for the department, and less budget reliant, is a call to the community to become “address aware” during the snow-heavy season. Etheridge said a major problem for first responders during the type of weather Juneau has experienced lately can be the lack of visible house addresses. A simple sweep around the curb or mailbox where the address is posted, Etheridge said, can significantly cut down response time and potentially save lives.

Sanford recognized

Chamber president Dan Fabrello presented a resolution to recognize former Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford “for his solid leadership and his commitment to his community, country and family” during Thursday’s luncheon.

Sanford, a former firefighter himself, accepted the certificate of recognition with a brief thank you to the crowd.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

More in News

(Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast for the week of Nov. 27

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Monday, Nov. 27, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The front page of the Juneau Empire on Nov. 30, 2005. (Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empire Archives: Juneau’s history for the week of Dec. 3

Three decades of capital city coverage.

Cheyenne Latu (left), a pharmacy technician at Ron’s Apothecary Shoppe, and business co-owner Gretchen Watts hang a poster at the front counter Thursday announcing the store’s closure after Dec. 6 as Jessica Kirtley, another pharmacy technician, works at the front register. The nearby Safeway supermarket has agreed to take the prescriptions of all customers as well as hire all of the independent pharmacy’s employees, according to the co-owners who are retiring. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Ron’s Apothecary Shoppe closing after nearly 50 years as co-owners retire; last day is Dec. 6

Safeway taking over all prescriptions and offering jobs to all employees, according to owners.

Attendees at the Friends of NRA — Juneau’s banquet in 2019 talk near auction tables at Centennial Hall. The fundraising event is resuming Saturday after a four-year COVID-19 disruption. (Photo courtesy of Friends of NRA — Juneau)
Friends of NRA — Juneau fundraising banquet returns Saturday after four-year pandemic absence

New Zealand hunting safari, signed Ted Nugent guitar among items being offered.

Wade Bryson, a Juneau Assembly member, explains why he favors giving local businesses a “sales tax holiday” for at least one day next year, targeting Feb. 29 as a suitable date, during the Assembly’s Finance Committee meeting Wednesday night. The committee voted to hold onto the proposal for further study rather than sending it to the full Assembly. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
A local sales tax holiday? Don’t pack your shopping bags yet

Proposal to waive taxes for a day or two each year isn’t a quick sale to most Assembly members

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Choir members rehearse Tuesday night for a Bach holiday concert at Ḵunéix̱ Hídi Northern Light United Church. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Quartet of Bach compositions joins lineup of local large-ensemble performances this season

Concerts this weekend part of resurging “wealth of riches” by choruses and orchestras, director says.

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry LeConte at the Auke Bay Terminal on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Petition seeks name change for LeConte state ferry

Petersburg man calling attention to what he calls Joseph LeConte’s racist history.

Most Read