Wheeling officials review 2021 call, crime statistics as Wheeling Fire Department sees busiest year

WHEELING, W.Va. — First responders in the city of Wheeling are reviewing crime and call statistics for 2021, which was released this week and headlined by the busiest year on record for the Wheeling Fire Department with the number of incidents.

The Wheeling Fire Department (WFD) announced its 2021 exceeded the previous record-breaking year of 2019 by an overall increase in calls by 9%. Medical/EMS calls for 2021 totaled 5,313, which accounts for roughly 68% of all departmental-related incidents. This is up nearly 20% from the previous year, the release said. Now more than ever it is important not to abandon your homes and business, you have to perform a fire system testing periodically to ensure that they are working properly and do not take you unprepared.

Wheeling Fire Chief Jim Blazier

“What is contributing to that is one, our aging community in the area, and two is COVID-19. We have a lot of calls with people who have complications of symptoms of COVID-19 infections that we are transporting,” WFD Chief Jim Blazier told MetroNews.

Overall, total departmental incidents for 2021 tallied up to 7,849, up nearly 14% from 2020. In addition to more medical calls, officials believe the increase was due to the return of festivals, sporting events and activities that requested or required departmental presence or response, a release stated.

The information from the WFD indicated fire calls continued a decline in 2021, dropping 14% from 2020. Other reductions from the prior year included good intent calls, hazmat situations and other non-fire related calls.

“Statewide most departments are experiencing the same increases in some call types and reductions in some areas,” Blazier said.

Blazier, who took over as chief mid 2021, admitted that the record increase in call volume makes it harder to get the day-to-day operations of the department completed, such as training.

“The incidents are going to take top priority. That training still has to take place so that increases the amount of time budgeting throughout the day for crews to get those things accomplished,” he said.

Calls for service are categorized by the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) Code Guide. A breakdown of the 2021 calls are as follows:

2021 Total Calls for Service: 7,849

Fire: 86
Overpressure/Explosion/Overheat (no fire): 35
Medical/EMS/Rescue: 5,313
Hazardous Conditions: 121
Service Calls: 986
Good Intent Calls: 527
False Alarms & False Calls: 770
Severe Weather/Natural Disaster: 8
Special Incidents: 3

For the Wheeling Police Department (WPD), the data collected over the last year indicates slight improvements in certain categories, including the ongoing battle with illegal drug usage and other violent crimes.

WPD reported a decrease of drug-related overdoses by 9% from the previous year, and the first noticeable reduction in five years. Schwertfeger credited WPD’s intelligence-led policing, focusing on crime trends in high target areas, and partnerships around town.

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger

“It is possible we are turning a corner on the hundreds of overdoses we respond to yearly,” said Chief Shawn Schwertfeger in a statement. “Thanks to the continued partnership with organizations like Serenity Hills Life Center, investigations with our Drug Task Force and more education and treatment, we hope the trend continues downward.”

In 2021, overdose-related deaths in Wheeling increased by three to 27 over the previous year, but WPD noted that it seems to be leveling off based on previous data.

Total calls for service were up 5%, the first increase in years. WPD said this was due a more normalized year that saw increased traffic volume on area roadways, more officer-initiated calls, special policing operations and the return of community activities, festivals, and events.

For specific crime-related information, the WPD data is divided into two areas: “Group A” offenses, which are generally more serious (homicide, robbery, sex crimes), and “Group B” offenses, which involve more nuisance, quality of life, property crimes and highway safety/traffic offenses, a release said.

The data release indicated that “Group A” offenses went down 5% overall. Areas that decrease include assaults, burglary, robbery, vandalism, thefts and sexual-related crimes. Categories that saw increases were drug offenses, fraudulent-related crimes/schemes, and child pornography cases.

“Group B” offenses were up roughly 10%. The fluctuation in numbers from the year prior is believed to be caused by a heavier focus on more nuisance-related crimes, which in turn leads to lower “Group A”/serious crimes being committed, Schwertfeger explained.

“When you go out and do proactive, selective type enforcement, you’re going to in essence take off a Group A offender at a Group B level. So you’re Group B offenses are going to be higher because you’ve addressed that criminal at a lower level,” he said to MetroNews.

Group A categories that decreased from the previous year:

Assaults (Down 5%)
Burglary (Down 32%)
Robbery (Down 48%)
Vandalism (Down 18%)
Larceny/Thefts (Down 5%)
Sex Offenses (Down 25%)

Group A categories that increased from the previous year:

Drug Offenses (Up 17%)
Fraud (Up 26%)
Child pornography (Up 108%) (NOTE: 12 in 2020 vs. 25 in 2021)

Schwertfeger said the numbers indicate Wheeling continues to be a safe city to live in. He said he is proud of the past year because of staffing shortages and COVID-19 issues.

“Even last year when we had an increase in Group A offense, it’s still very safe. it’s a great city. We’re just proud to make it a little safer this year,” the chief said.

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