Responding to fires in homeless encampments

Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins says the fire department responds to three to five campfires each day. He also said it taxed an understaffed fire department. The department is reported to be operating with 9% fewer firefighters than expected. They are in the process of recruiting 90 firefighters.

A hot spot is at 53rd Street and 14th Avenue in Ballard where there have been several tent fires over the past two years. The city has had enough. He had given campers on the sidewalk in a two-block area 48 hours notice to remove their belongings. The city says the camps are considered a “safety hazard.”

The Seattle Fire Department reports that it is on course to break a record for homeless encampment fire responses and calls for medical help at the camps. Data sent shows that last year the department responded to 1,446 encampment fire calls, which nearly doubled from the total of 854 in 2020. From January 1 to April 10 of this year, the department responded to 478 camp fires. In 2021, during the same period, it was 327. The year before, they responded to 168 camp fires.

EMS is also seeing record calls as fire and rescue are connected within the same organization. Chief Scoggins said EMS units respond to 30 to 35 calls for medical help at the encampments daily. So far this year, there have been 3,102 EMS calls to encampments. The department is moving fast and is on track to beat the total number of EMS calls in 2021, which was recorded at 11,230.

Scoggins said the Fire and Rescue Department averages between 250 and 275 911 calls for citywide service each day. Camp calls are now approaching 15% of the daily calls the department receives. the Portland Middle reported on gun violence in the encampments for a week. Violence increased in the camps. Firefighters sometimes have to wear ballistic vests and helmets.