The heat is on.

Noting a whopping 22 percent increase in fire and medical calls during the past year, Murray officials - like those in Salt Lake City - are looking at alternative sources to supplement the city's fire department.If a Salt Lake City paramedic accompanies a patient to the hospital, Gold Cross Ambulance Service reimburses the city $100. Murray's EMTs don't make hospital runs.

So Murray Mayor Lynn Pett said the city is looking at other options - possibly a user fee if the fire service work load continues to grow.

In 1990, the department responded to 1,663 medical calls, compared to 1,304 in 1989. Fire-related calls increased from 540 to 699 during the same time. Only 20 of the fire calls in 1990 were false alarms - up 12 from 1989. Few calls involving Murray paramedics were false, said Murray Fire Chief Wendell Coombs.

The trend is obviously continuing. During the first 10 days of 1991, the department responded to 56 medical and fire calls - more than 5 calls a day, compared to roughly 2 per day in 1990.

Salt Lake City, like Murray, had a surge in calls. In fact, the city responded to 27,007 fire and paramedics calls in 1990, compared to 19,737 in 1989 - a 27 percent increase.

"A lot of the increase is attributed to the enhanced 911 system hang-up calls," said Battalion Chief Gordon W. Nicholl, public information officer, Salt Lake City Fire Department. (Hang-up calls are when police or paramedics are dispatched to a location even though a 911 caller hangs up.) He said the department responded to 7,499 emergency 911 false hang-up calls in 1990, compared to 1,791 in 1989.

"But there's also a lot more people living in and commuting to the city," Nicholl said. "A decade ago, Salt Lake City's daytime population was 250,000. Today it has swelled to approximately 350,000 during business hours."

More people has meant more fire and accidents in Murray as well. Coombs said Murray's population more than doubles during weekdays.

"Murray is a commercial center and the number of people visiting, shopping or traveling through Murray to other locations increased the past year," Pett said. "Many stores reported a 22 percent increase in sales over last year. Additionally, we've had a lot of new businesses open this past year bringing more people into the city."

Coombs said firefighters responded to more arson-caused fires, plus those accidentally started by children and adults carelessly playing with fireworks during the dry summer months.

"We also had a dramatic increase in car fires, but we don't know the reason," Coombs said. "We are still surveying the final reports."

Meanwhile, the number of Murray firefighters/paramedics decreased by one - from 33 to 32.

"Our full-time firefighters have put in a lot of extra hours and we've utilized our part-time people a lot more," Coombs said. "We have called them back to work more shifts to cover the one man we lost."

Pett and Coombs agree Murray can't provide more service with the same amount of manpower.

"If the calls continue to increase, we are going to have to look at adding additional manpower," the mayor said. "You can only stretch them (the firefighters) so far."

But the city budget's tight. So city council members have asked department heads to look for and recommend alternative sources of funding. One option is the user fee.

"I have mixed emotions on impact fees. In a lot of ways we try to compete with other cities to get businesses in our cities. Other cities are putting up economic development grants to try and get businesses to located in their cities. So it is kind of a Catch-22," Pett said. "We don't want to do anything to discourage anyone coming to our city - if we want them. Yet businesses require more work and equipment to protect them, so the city should at least look at the possibility of a user or service fee."


(Additional information)

Increase in fire/medical calls

1990 1989

Salt Lake City 27,007 19,737

Murray 2,362 1,804