Elderly couple calls fire department 1,100 times in three years

Posted at 5:53 PM, Aug 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-12 18:09:49-04

Virginia Beach, Va. - A News 3 investigation caused a firestorm online.

An abuse of the system was exposed when we uncovered that an elderly couple called the fire department 1,100 times in the last three years in Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach firefighters call it a growing problem say too many people call the fire department for non-emergencies.

Shirley Niemiec calls the fire department on a daily basis.

Her husband needs help getting in and out of bed twice a day.

The issue was addressed at a recent city council meeting.

Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen said, “We as a public safety response team will respond to those calls until we can change our operating conditions at the approval of our city council.” Hansen and other city leaders are working right now create a solution for people who say they are not eligible for socials services but can’t afford home healthcare and use the fire department as a solution to non-emergency issues.

With more and more baby boomers aging, city leaders say it’s a growing problem.

“Unfortunately the numbers of these assists are becoming extraordinary so we are looking at putting policies into effect that will assist as best we can to find them other assistance to help them at home to do non-emergency care of those citizens,” said Hansen

And there’s an impact on taxpayers.

The fire department says it’s very difficult to estimate these types of costs.

The Virginia Beach Firefighter Union president said 1,100 calls for service would equal somewhere between $250,000 to almost half a million dollars.

William Bailey said the impact comes for many different aspects like fuel costs, firefighter salaries and maintenance on the fire trucks.

When you examine the number of miles in this particular case there have been roughly 3,900 miles put on the various fire trucks dispatched to this house. They live about 1.8 miles from Fire Station 19 .

When looking at the miles alone, it would be like driving from Virginia to California to Colorado.

Virginia Beach District Chief Kenneth Pravetz said, “The fire department is funded through taxpayer dollars, so the taxpayers are paying for it.”

He said that when you look at the firefighter salaries and fuel costs alone it adds up to about $65 per call.

Firefighters are paid the same amount of money no matter what types of calls they go on, so including that cost is debatable on whether to include that in the cost estimate.

But, of course, being tied up on a non-emergency could be problematic if something were to happen.