On average, the Carson City Fire Department handles 23 calls a day, but Thursday was one for the record books with three paramedic ambulance crews covering 39 calls.
At about 2:30 p.m. the system was overloaded, seven calls seemed to come in almost simultaneously, and Carson City relied heavily on its neighbors.
Lyon, Douglas, and Tahoe districts each transported one patient and the Sierra Fire Protection District sent one ambulance to stand by at the county line.
"What's happening right now probably happens one or two times a month," Fire Chief Stacey Giomi said that crazy afternoon. "We had a public safety master plan done in 2000 and based on that information - based on industry standards - we ought to have one more engine and probably two more ambulances. Budgetarily speaking, that's pretty big."
The city is considering major cuts to keep afloat in a slow economy and a slump in sales taxes. City Manager Linda Ritter said a citizen's committee is looking at options for funding public safety.
During the work week the population in Carson City can reach up to 80,000 people, with the Nevada State Demographer's office reporting a population of about 57,000 residents. Three paramedic ambulances cover the city.
Douglas County's East Fork Fire Protections District has five paramedic ambulances per shift. Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, which covers the Douglas County portion of Lake Tahoe, has one. Douglas County has a population of about 54,000, with tourism bringing it up to 75,000 on some days.
Lyon County has four ambulances per shift for its four fire districts. The population there is estimated at 50,000.
Last year, Carson City fire crews responded to 7,800 calls for service. Douglas responded to 4,900 calls and Lyon County's four districts averaged about 4,000.
Carson City has to rely on its neighbors for backup, said Giomi.
"We are particularly taxed on our side. The average increase in calls for service goes up 5 percent each year. It's approaching the point where we couldn't survive without cooperation from our adjoining departments."
Said Ritter: "We do use them more often than we'd like. Business just goes up, unfortunately the revenue doesn't match it."
Ritter, Giomi, East Fork's Fire Captain Terry Taylor and Central Lyon County's Chief John Gillenwater agreed, and Carson does its share in supporting those other counties as well.
Gillenwater said he feels for Carson City and the plight of the department. His own department struggles with its resources, but they respond to far fewer calls than their neighbor to the west, he noted.
"Carson really needs a fourth station. Carson City firefighters are some of the hardest working firefighters in the state because of the amount of calls they have and how few staff.
"I have a lot of respect for those guy," he said. "I would love to see them have a fourth station. It just makes sense to me. It's just one of those things that makes your gut not feel good - these guys are a really on the edge all the time."
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.