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In an April interview at the News-Times office, Gaston Fire Chief Roger Mesenbrink estimated his station’s annual call volume had doubled from about 280 a decade ago to about 460 last year.


That off-the-cuff number was a bit high. According to Administrative Assistant Deanna Friedman, Gaston Fire got 423 calls during 2013. That’s a surprising 44 percent jump from the 2012 tally of 293 calls and only the second time in the past decade when annual calls broke 400 (there were 401 in 2006). Over the past six years the numbers have dropped from the low 300s into the 200s.

Part of the mystery in that 423 number can be attributed to more than 30 calls from one mentally ill person, according to Randy Hoodenpyl, one of Gaston Fire’s two paid, full-time firefighters. Subtracting those 30, the number of “normal” business calls in 2013 was about 390 — still quite a jump.

Mesenbrink’s guess is that calls went back up in 2013 because the economy was improving. That’s what Banks Fire Chief Brian Coussens says he saw in his district, where calls dropped during the downturn, then jumped back up this year and last.

In Gaston, however, the pace has not continued in 2014, where only 94 calls have come in so far, including six from the mentally ill person who has since stopped calling.

At the same time last year, the station had received 112 calls, including some from the problem caller.

Call volume changes don’t have a huge cost impact. Yes, each volunteer firefighter receives an $8 stipend ($9 starting next fiscal year) for every call they respond to, so the more calls that come in, the more stipends go out, the more fuel is burned, the more heat and water is used when volunteers return to the station to clean up. But even a big jump in calls wouldn’t add more than $10,000 a year in those kinds of costs, Mesenbrink said.

That may change in five years or so, when a planned development of 250 to 300 homes begins to nearly double the city’s current population of about 650.

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