According to data collected from the San Marcos Fire Department, fire and EMS calls made to multi-family residential properties (such as apartment buildings and townhouses) increased roughly 43% last year — from 754 calls in 2019 to 1,079 in 2020.
This increase comes despite a slight drop in overall call volume, from 6,114 total fire and EMS calls in 2019 to 6,001 in 2020. Assistant Fire Chief Jim Matano, who oversees operations and training at the fire department, says the reason for this is likely quite simple: people are spending more time at home because of COVID-19.
“If something’s going to go wrong, it’s going to go wrong at the house, just because that’s where they are,” Matano said.
To protect first responders from COVID-19, the fire department changed the way they respond to calls. Now, when first responders arrive on the scene of a call, they send just one person to assess the situation and determine how many people will be necessary to deal with it, then call in only that many people.
“Under normal conditions, both guys on the ambulance and the whole crew of the engine or truck would go in, and then we have five or six guys exposed,” Matano said. “Now we’re sending one in to make a determination on what was exactly needed manpower-wise and then we would just supplement from there.”
According to Matano, the department regularly assesses whether this approach is still necessary based on COVID-19 case numbers, but he expects the department will continue to respond to calls this way for the foreseeable future.
Although COVID-19 played a significant part in the elevated apartment call volume and Matano expects it to decrease as more people are vaccinated and case numbers drop, he expects to see an increase in overall call volume.
“People are getting back out in the bars and the Square’s pretty heavily populated on the weekends,” Matano said. “My anticipation for this year – 2021 – I would say we would be on trend to outpace 2020’s calls for sure. And there’s other things that come into consideration, too, not just opening up from COVID. We happen to be in one of the fastest growing areas in the country.”
It is certainly accurate to say San Marcos’ population is growing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Marcos’ population grew from 45,139 in 2010 to 64,776 in 2019, an approximately 43.5% increase.
Matano is not alone in recognizing the impact continued population growth could have on San Marcos’ emergency services; the San Marcos Fire Department will soon add a sixth to its array of fire stations in preparation for further increases in population.
“It’s not a secret that San Marcos is a growing community,” the department said in a press release. “San Marcos Fire Department is proud to be adding Station #6 in order to provide fire services and staffing to help us cover this growth.”
Construction on the new station, which will be located near the newly developed TRACE neighborhood at 5716 S. Old Bastrop Highway, is scheduled to begin June 25. Fire Chief Les Stephens praised the project, estimated to cost $6.5 million, as a decision that will greatly benefit the city in years to come.
“The citizens of San Marcos and our mayor and council should be proud to be so proactive and so forward-looking to have something in an area that it doesn’t quite look like it’s ready for us, but it’s going to be here soon and we’re here ahead of it and ready to take care of it,” Stephens said.