As Round Rock continues its rapid population growth, we have more citizens who want to “age in place.” While we love having these citizens in our community, the reality is that many of our older adults or disabled are left without support in their declining years. Our first responders respond to a high number of non-emergency calls for help that are misdirected, unheard and often ignored by “the system.” We are finding this small population of citizens account for a large percentage of call volume for these low-acuity calls, and cause delays to other emergency calls.
Round Rock is not alone in dealing with this issue. About one in 11 Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, partner or living child, census figures and other research show. What we have found in Round Rock are growing unmet needs such as lack of medical assistance and non-functional smoke alarms.
When analyzing the problem, Fire Chief Robert Isbell saw an opportunity to partner with the City’s Neighborhood Services team to reach this growing demographic though its annual Love the Rock event. At this event, the City partners with neighborhoods and dozens of churches for a single day of service to help neighborhoods. The churches supply more than 1,200 volunteers of different faiths to work on service projects. Fire Department staff are actively involved in identifying and addressing fire safety issues.
A key element of Chief Isbell’s Community Risk Reduction Program is connecting with members of our community who have the most urgent need in order to provide risk assessments of their home environment. For the 2018 version of Love the Rock, two neighborhoods were selected based on high call volume from the Fire and Police Departments.
“That area stood out when analyzing calls and overlaying disabled or veteran tax exemptions, and property age,” Isbell said. “We knew we could reduce the likelihood of having a fire through a home safety survey. With that, we can provide tools like kitchen fire extinguishers to help them deal with the most common fire and, with working smoke alarms, quickly alert anyone in the home so they can exit and call for help. We believe this combination of resources allows us the best opportunity to save a life from a fire.”
During Love the Rock, volunteers are trained to test and install smoke alarms and log any apparent needs on inspection forms, which are returned to the Fire Department for follow up. Chief Isbell says the volunteers do more to help prevent problems on that day than the entire Fire Department could do in a year.
Sharon, an older, disabled resident who lives alone, had her smoke alarms serviced and volunteers also cleaned her yard – abating a code violation. Sharon’s stress reduction was visible to the volunteers, whom she tearfully embraced.
“It’s like a gift better than money, better than jewels,” Sharon said. “As a woman trying to keep up with all the things, it can get overwhelming. It just took weight off my shoulders. I feel so blessed and I feel so honored.”
Since the 2018 Love the Rock event, Chief Isbell said there has been one home where working smoke alarms installed by volunteers alerted residents to a fire. Firefighters were able to respond to the call in a timely manner, and property damage was minimal. Most importantly, no one was injured or killed.
“As well-trained and professional as our firefighters are, we’d much rather not have to make a run to put out a fire,” Chief Isbell said. “We can’t prevent every fire, but through our Community Risk Reduction efforts we can improve the odds in favor of our residents, particularly those most at risk.”
“We knew we could reduce the likelihood of having a fire through a home safety survey. With that, we can provide tools like kitchen fire extinguishers to help them deal with the most common fire and, with working smoke alarms, quickly alert anyone in the home so they can exit and call for help.”
—Fire Chief Robert Isbell