By Dan Moffett
It seems certain that 2017 was a record-breaking year for calls from Ocean Ridge to the Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department.
Just how big a record is not quite so certain.
Boynton Beach Fire Chief Glenn Joseph says his department responded to 292 calls for service from Ocean Ridge last year, a whopping 88 percent increase over the 155 calls in 2016.
Police Chief Hal Hutchins, Ocean Ridge’s top public safety official, thinks that number might be a bit high. Hutchins says his count for Boynton responses to the town last year is 202, a still-robust increase of 30 percent over the previous year.
Why the difference? Town Manager Jamie Titcomb believes there may have been “a change in methodology” in record-keeping when Joseph took over the department two years ago. Hutchins thinks it could be that some Briny Breezes numbers may have gotten swept into Ocean Ridge’s account when Boynton took over policing the mobile home community in late 2016.
No matter, because whether it’s 292 or 202 or something in between, service calls from Ocean Ridge were unusually high. Consider the numbers from the previous three years were 133 (2014), 145 (2015) and 155 (2016). No other South County coastal community has seen a similar rise.
Hutchins says after studying the statistics he found reasons for the increase.
“In review, I did see a pattern of response to a few addresses for multiple medical calls, as well as an increased fire and elevator alarm response to two condo properties, which would have caused a spike in calls for the year,” he said.
Typically in South Florida, nearly 70 percent of the calls to fire departments are for emergency medical services. Fire calls, especially those to significant fires, make up a relatively small percentage of requests for assistance.
Joseph, 55, who was born in Castries, St. Lucia, immigrated to Florida when he was 13 and grew up in Belle Glade. He is a 29-year veteran of the Boca Raton Fire Department who holds a bachelor’s degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a master’s in emergency planning and administration from Lynn University.
Joseph says he has confidence in the accuracy of his numbers but believes the 292 “may be an anomaly” that will fall back into place over time.
“It’s something we’ll be tracking,” he said. “The number that’s really important is response time — about 41/2 minutes.”
That’s one statistic first responders on both sides of the bridge can celebrate. Three years ago, the average response time from Boynton to Ocean Ridge was 6 minutes, 19 seconds.