POCATELLO — The city found itself with no available police and fire units early Saturday evening.
Within the span of 24 minutes, the city’s emergency responders were called to two motor vehicle accidents, a woman suffering a stroke and a man suffering severe chest pains.
The four calls left the Pocatello police and fire departments with no available units to respond to anything else.
But Pocatello Police Chief Roger Schei says calls are increasing as the population grows and more events are being held in the area, and it’s not that uncommon for all of their resources to be tied up. Still, they’ve learned to manage such situations.
“We’re good at how we consolidate our resources and manpower,” Schei said.
He says they have to prioritize their calls, responding to the most urgent situations first, and have done other things to free up as many officers as possible. For instance, they allow citizens to file crime reports online for non-emergency situations like vandalism, identity theft or lost property.
“It saves an officer from having to go out there,” Schei said, adding that it also frees up the dispatcher who would take the phone call and the stenographer who would type up the report.
In addition, if there are two or more officers at a call, they can reassign some of them to another call, Schei said. And they can always ask off-duty officers to come in if they need them to.
While Pocatello falls below the state and national average for the number of officers per 1,000 people, and they could certainly use more officers, Schei said the challenges they face are not unique to their department.
“What we had on Saturday happens in communities across the country on a daily basis,” he said.
Around 6 p.m. on Saturday, emergency responders were called to a crash on West Sherman that involved three vehicles and a power pole. One woman, who had to extricated from an SUV, was injured in that incident.
Police said the downed power pole caused a brief power outage in the immediate area of the crash before Idaho Power crews responded and replaced the pole and downed wires.
West Sherman between Main and North Harrison was temporarily shut down by police because of the wreck.
The second crash occurred at 6:27 p.m. Saturday when the driver of a car lost control on McKinley Avenue near West Griffith Road.
The car crashed through a fence, overturned and came to rest on its roof in the yard of a home, police said, adding that the driver was not injured in that incident.
With all available police units and nearly all of the city’s fire units responding to the crashes, the third 911 call came in at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
A woman was suffering a stroke at a home on West Clark Street.
The remaining available Pocatello Fire Department unit, fortunately an ambulance, rushed to the woman’s home and transported her to PMC.
Another 911 call then came in at 6:32 p.m. Saturday about a man in an alley off McKinley Avenue near West Oak Street who was experiencing severe chest pains.
There were initially no Pocatello Fire Department units available to respond.
But soon after that call came in the fire department ambulance that had transported the West Sherman crash victim to the hospital became available and it picked up the man in the alley off McKinley and transported him.
Police and firefighters said that it doesn’t take many emergency calls to max out their resources and delay their response times to new emergencies.
The Pocatello Fire Department said the number of times it’s had five overlapping calls is dramatically increasing.
In 2015, there were 19 times when the department responded to five overlapping emergencies — incidents happening during the same short time frame. From January to May of 2019, there were 33 times when this happened.
Saturday evening’s incidents represented only four overlapping emergencies but they still maxed out the city’s emergency response resources.
While emergency resources may get tied up, Schei said that does not mean that people living in Pocatello are not safe.
“We have a safe community that we live in,” he said. “We do have things that happen here, but we’re really good about bringing a resolution to those incidents.”
Police may have to prioritize their response — a fight in progress or an injury accident will likely take precedence over a theft or burglary that occurred earlier in the day — but Schei said they will respond.
“It may take a little time to get to them, but they do good work and they’ll get there and be able to respond,” he said.