Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Rationalizing fire and emergency services

Chinatown, Washington DC Fire Appliance,
Chinatown, Washington DC Fire Appliance. Flickr photo by BillKatyGemma

Not too long ago, someone asked me why a fire engine and crew was the first responder to emergency calls, even though most didn't involve fires. I said "to keep firefighters employed."

Governing Magazine has a good article, "Firefighters Feel the Squeeze of Shrinking Budgets," about using data and technology to rationalize firefighting and the provision of personnel. It happens that 4 out of 5 "fire calls" are for emergency medical services. From the article:

At the same time, most calls are either false alarms or not particularly serious. Yet too few fire departments have adapted very well to these realities. For example, San Jose still sends an attack pumper with a full complement of four firefighters to all emergency medical calls.

Tying up four firefighters and a rig for what usually winds up being minor medical emergencies doesn’t make any sense, says Bruce Hoover, chief of the Fargo Fire Department in North Dakota. Fargo’s protocols used to mirror San Jose’s exactly. But now Fargo fire trucks only roll if “there’s bleeding, breathing complications or trauma,” Hoover says. “We now only respond for true medical emergencies, and that’s cut our run count back by 1,000 a year, and has kept apparatus and manpower in place for real emergencies.” ...

What drives firefighting in the U.S., for the most part, is long-standing practice, not good, current information on what’s actually happening on the ground, including number of calls, response times, seriousness of the incident, geographical distribution and time of day, all measured in relation to the geometry of fire service manpower, equipment and deployment.

For example, in one jurisdiction that asked the ICMA to come in and do a thorough analysis of demand, resources and deployment, the ICMA team looked at the busiest five minutes the fire department had in a year. What did the team find? Even at its busiest moment of the year, the city still had seven idle units standing by ready to respond, with 28 available firefighters. Those are just the sorts of analyses -- in combination with the current budget crisis -- that have emboldened policymakers and budget writers to start asking tougher questions about what fire departments really need and how they do business -- and asking them to either hold the line on budgets or cut back.

The article discusses how in the immediate post-9/11 environment, firefighters were sacrosanct, but now, with pressed local government budgets, more rationalization, wage reductions, and the like are occurring. A little less relevant to the DC region, where such services are provided on a county-wide basis in most places, the the article sidebar, "4 Ways to Rethink the Firefighting Game" mentions that small communities can save resources by providing fire services are on more regional basis.

The sidebar mentions also how one community uses small SUVs staffed with one paramedic and equipment as the first responder to many of the emergency calls that don't warrant sending of full EMS vehicles. (This is not unrelated to my point that smaller fire trucks could be deployed for alley calls.)

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home