SPOKANE, Wash. -

The Spokane Fire Department is extending its pilot program for Alternative Response Units, which use SUVs staffed by one firefighter to respond to non-emergency calls.

On Tuesday, firefighter Mike Dawson was manning one of the fire department's ARU, driving around Spokane responding to calls in an SUV.

“This alternative response unit program has more pluses than minuses, I'm convinced,” he said.

The City of Spokane is seeing the pluses as well. During a six-month trial period the fire department's three ARUs responded to nearly 1,200 calls. Dawson was part of the initial test run of the units and averaged eight calls per shift.

“The vast majority of calls I went to I could do myself, while I was out doing them the trucks were available for more urgent calls,” Dawson said.

To emphasize that point, during a 15-minute period Tuesday, Dawson responded to a seizure downtown and a welfare check near the intersection of Division Street and North River Drive.

“During the trial period, I was surprised by the number of those that we helped said thank you for not sending the big truck,” he said.

Dawson admits he wasn't a fan of the ARUs in the beginning but after being behind the wheel, his view certainly changed.

“This is a terrific idea,” he said.

Dispatching an SUV with a single paramedic or EMT to less severe incidents cuts costs. The fire department said the maintenance and operation on a big rig is four to five times more expensive than the ARU.

With the extension of the pilot program, the fire department's ARUs will be in service Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for another 18 months.