Calls to DeFuniak Springs Fire have risen by 101% since 2019, last year busiest yet

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News
Firefighters return a cat to its owner after they rescued it from a house fire last year. The DeFuniak Springs Fire Department answered 1,628 calls for service last year, up 101% percent from 2019.

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The city is growing rapidly, and with it’s expansion firefighters are responding to more calls for service than ever before.

Crews with the DeFuniak Springs Fire Department responded to 1,628 calls for service in 2021. That represents a 101% increase in calls since 2019 and the most calls ever received by the department.  

“Our call volume has doubled in the last two years with the amount of traffic we’re getting on our city streets and also the growth of our city with the new businesses coming in,” Fire Chief Ross Sheffield said. “It has been keeping us pretty busy.”

You might also like:DeFuniak Springs first responders raise over $11K in first 'Battle of the Badges'

In case you missed it:A 20-year tradition: Why DeFuniak Springs firefighters wear stickers on their helmets

DeFuniak Springs Fire Department Chief Ross Sheffield talks about helmet stickers awarded to his firefighters for outstanding work in an August interview. Sheffield said firefighters responded an unprecedented number of calls for service in 2021.

Nearly every type of call increased last year, from medical emergencies to commercial and residential fires.

Medical emergencies made up 61% of calls received by the department in 2021. Most firefighters are trained as EMTs and paramedics, and often provide treatment while waiting for EMS crews to arrive and take patients to hospitals.

“It’s a big range of medical calls,” Sheffield said. “It could be a vehicle accident with injuries. We also did a lost persons case that turned into a medical call. It changes from day to day.”

Firefighters responded to a total of 55 commercial and residential fires in 2021. Sheffield said the number of fires was up from previous years, with trash, vehicle and mobile home fires being some of the most common.

The increase in calls puts “more stress” on firefighters, who often go beyond DeFuniak Springs' city limits to assist with emergencies, Sheffield said. There were 13 full-time firefighters on hand to serve the city last year. The budget allows for 14, but one was deployed for nearly all of 2021.

The department began the year with two part-time firefighters, but increased that number to six to help address the unprecedented number of calls. The job can be demanding, as firefighters also are required to take on several daily tasks such as training, public education and other public services.

“It put a little bit more stress on us because we do have other things we have to do on a daily basis,” Sheffield said. “We did have to work overtime, but we were able to stay operational. We were able to keep all units staffed.”

At South Walton beaches:Dangerous surf and defiant swimmers: 2021 'most challenging' season yet for South Walton lifeguards

Read more:'Ground-shaking' $4.7M water and sewer infrastructure project underway in Walton County

The addition of a new fire engine and a new set of tools helped improve response times and services despite the stark increase in calls. Firefighters received a new set of extrication tools known as the “Jaws-of-Life” in June.

The new battery-powered equipment replaced an extremely heavy set of tools powered by gasoline. That saved vital seconds as firefighters have been able to access patients trapped in vehicles faster.

DeFuniak Springs Firefighter/EMT Colby Cook earned his first helmet sticker for outstanding jaws of life work in a vehicle extrication. The Fire Department is upgrading it equipment to help keep up with an ever-increasing number of calls

A new set of wheels purchased with the help of the DeFuniak Springs City Council and Mayor Bob Campbell in February also saved firefighters time by replacing an “unreliable” fire engine. The department also obtained a compressor used to fill self-contained breathing apparatuses with the help of surrounding fire stations.

“Our surrounding departments were helping us out so we don’t have to go out of the city limits to refill our bottles. We can do it at our stations,” Sheffield said. “There’s been a lot of things that we have looked back on to make changes and make us more efficient.”

The fire chief said he thinks firefighters will stay busy in 2022 because of several infrastructure and housing projects underway in DeFuniak Springs, as well as the amount of traffic the tourist season will bring.

A $4.7 million water and sewer infrastructure improvement project along U.S. Highway 331 that began in September is expected to boost residential and commercial development along part of the road.

“We’re averaging 1,500 calls per year. I predict by this time in December of this year we will be in the 2,000 range. It will go up dramatically,” Sheffield said. “It’s just we are having a lot of new construction in our city… and with the tourist season, we will see another increase in our runs.”

DeFuniak Springs firefighters extinguish a small fire discovered in the garage of a home on White Street. The Fire Department answered 1,628 calls for service in 2021, the most ever.

The Fire Department is looking at several projects that could help address a continuous increase in calls for service. One major project Sheffield said he hopes to see come to fruition is a new fire station at the south end of DeFuniak Springs.

“We would hope if the funds are there that we can also increase personnel,” he added. “We do have multiple grants out also for getting additional equipment that we can operate and serve the citizens of our city.”

With an increase in fires last year, Sheffield said he hopes to see a smoke alarm installed in every home in DeFuniak Springs by the end of 2022.

The Fire Department began partnering with the American Red Cross last year in a nationwide fire prevention education campaign called “Sound the Alarm: Save a Life.”

Through the partnership, firefighters installed 10-year battery life smoke detectors in about 100 homes at no cost to residents.

“I wish it was double that,” Sheffield said. “As Red Cross is giving us these smoke detectors, we need to actually use them. Our goal is still to have one smoke detector in every residence within our city limits.”

Sheffield said there are still several smoke alarms left. Residents can contact the DeFuniak Springs Fire Department at 850-892-8515 to have a free smoke alarm installed or put in a request by visiting the city's website at