By Alex DeMetrick

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — Calls for help are changing in this country.

Alex DeMetrick reports first responders have to adapt to fewer fires and more medical emergencies.

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It turns out that wail in the night is a call for change for fire departments in Maryland and the nation.

“It’s a big change, and it’s been trending that way for 20 years,” said Chief Michael Cox, Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

The trend away from fighting fires.

It’s an emergency that will never go away, but it is steadily shrinking from more than 3 million fires nationally in 1977 to more than 1 million in 2010. It’s a 55 percent decrease that’s still going down.

The reason:

“There’s better building construction. There’s new fire codes. There’s testing labs like underwriters that test appliances,” Cox said.

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This is forcing Anne Arundel County’s fire chief to adapt to a new reality.

The county is growing its ambulance fleet, investing in six more by June to keep pace with an aging wave of baby boomers.

“So many of the calls are medical calls. It’s important to have an ambulance at the scene,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman.

From nearly 58,000 medical calls in the county in 2008 to just over 61,000 last year, it’s an 85 percent increase. Many have nothing to do with injuries from serious accidents.

“People being discharged from the hospital earlier, more people being treated at home,” Cox said.

When it comes to cost, it doesn’t always make sense to send a fire engine to do an ambulance’s work.

“And we were sending a fire engine out on every one of those calls, and that just doesn’t make sense,” Neuman said.

So the county is cross-training firefighters to roll on more medical calls.

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