SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A San Francisco firefighters are among the busiest in the country, but their emergency calls are most often not emergencies at all.

In fact, in San Francisco only about 1.5 percent of fire calls are for house or building fires. About 29 percent of the calls are for other types of fire emergencies. The other 70 percent are for medical calls.

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On Seventh and Market earlier Thursday afternoon, San Francisco firefighters responded to treat a homeless person who was sick. Paramedics took him to the hospital.  It’s a very common scene – the number of calls to assist homeless people have absolutely increased.

When the fire bell rings, Floyd Rollins with the San Francisco Firefighters Union said the men and women of the fire department respond professionally, not knowing who they are going to encounter. But when they get to the scene, they often recognize the caller.

“We have our frequent fliers who we know by first name,” said Rollins. “But again, you don’t know who’s on the other end of the phone when the call comes in.”

Some homeless activists say they wish there was better access to health care. But also agree the frequent caller issue is a place where improvements can be made.

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“Often times, we are responding to our homeless population,” said Chief Joanne Hayes-White. “We are an integral part of that, but we are just a piece of it.”

Hayes-White says city agencies are working together to come up with creative ways to deal with the volume of 911 calls for homeless people.

For example, she says the Next Door homeless shelter at 1001 Polk Street was making a very high volume of 911 calls earlier this year; about 80 per month. Many were not necessarily emergencies. So the city’s Department of Public Health stationed a nurse at the shelter and now the number of 911 calls have been cut in more than half.

“The end result is that you have a unit available that much more often as opposed to spending time on a call that wasn’t really one we would typically be responding for,” said Hayes-White.

According to the chief, the department is about to revive a program that identifies the frequent 911 callers in order to get them services with the city before the fire department has to come to the rescue.

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