Welz said that the statistics show that quicker response times have kept fires contained.
"I asked Andrew to go back to 1981, when we started keeping records on all the fires in the five towns," Welz said last week. "I saw that last year, we had only 21 multiple alarm fires in the Regional, and that seemed to me to be a low number. So we decided to research it more."
As it turns out, in the period since the towns started keeping records more than 20 years ago, the total of multiple alarm fires is the lowest total ever.
"We had been averaging around 33 or so," Welz said. "In 2004, we had 35. But the drop in 2005 is substantial."
Prior to the formation of the NHRFR in 1999, the average was 54 fires per year. And one year during the research period, there were 84 multiple alarm blazes.
But dropping to a total of 21 in an entire year is mind boggling, when you consider that the NHRFR covers the nation's most densely populated municipality (Union City) and sees hundreds of residences and buildings situated on top of each other.
"It really is amazing," said NHRFR Chief Brion McEldowney. "It's pretty good information, and I didn't realize it had dropped that much. I'm excited about the numbers. It proves how good the regional concept is working. It's something that I believed in all along."
McEldowney was asked why he thought the number of major blazes dropped so considerably.
"I think it's because we frontload every fire now," McEldowney said. "It's kind of like a German blitzkrieg. We get to every fire with a lot of manpower and a lot of equipment and put the fires out before they spread and do a lot of damage to property. We also do a lot more training with our firefighters now, so they're a lot more prepared when they get to a fire. The biggest thing is not only response time, but the equipment getting there as well. Response time is good, but the response comes with four engines and about 30 firefighters."
Welz added, "We're better utilizing our manpower. We always believed that the Regional would reduce the losses due to fire. Now we have the numbers to back it up. That was the goal of the regional when it started. We now have concrete proof that it works. We're not only saving money, but we're saving property as well. This indicates to me that the firefighters are doing a tremendous job. Their dedication and professionalism has given us the resources to save lives and property."
More number-crunching Welz said that they are going through archives to see if the number of lives saved in fires has also increased over the six-plus years that the NHRFR has been in place.
"But we know that we have stopped the spread of bigger property loss," Welz said.
Welz said that there are other factors in the drop of multiple alarm fires. Most buildings that are being restored and refurbished now come with stricter fire code regulations than in years past. The NHRFR's fire prevention program has also been a key.
"We do stress fire safety with the senior citizens and in the schools," NHRFR Co-Director Michael DeOrio said. "We have a lot of programs that teach the residents the proper precautions to take in case of a fire. Having them more informed also helps in saving property. I don't think the total number of fires has changed, but we're getting quicker responses, and everyone is on the same page. We're knocking down fires sooner than ever before. We're very happy with the numbers. Things could escalate at any time, but we feel we have a good hold on it right now, reducing fires to a minimum."
McEldowney also feels that the members of the NHRFR are more comfortable working with each other now after six years.
"Now, we work under the same procedures and same guidelines," McEldowney said. "Operating is a lot smoother now, and it's also that way at fire grounds. We have everyone working together now. They know what to do in case of a fire. We're really doing a great job of putting out the fires before they spread."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, who serves as the chairman of the NHRFR's Board of Commissioners, was also pleased with the information.
"This report is proof that the Regional works," Turner said. "Of course, there's no guarantee on the number of fires. But this proves that a regional response is a faster response, and that it does work. There's an overwhelming presence each time the first call goes out. The firefighters are there earlier and with more resources that ever before. It shows that the whole concept works and works for the benefit of the residents."
Turner said that the new equipment purchased in recent years has also been a source for the NHRFR's success rating.
"We have a lot of new equipment that the individual towns could have never afforded," Turner said. "It works very smoothly and very well. We have the third largest fire department in the state [behind Newark and Jersey City] and we're all benefiting now from having that kind of professional operation."