Independent snapshot: Scottsdale fire response times fall below national average

A demonstration of the scene of a drowning incident and the severity of the injury and threat it poses to everyone. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Fire Department)

A demonstration of the scene of a drowning incident. Numbers show the Scottsdale Fire Department is well below the national average of emergency response times. (Submitted photo)

Whether it be a chimney smoke fire or an accident with a paring knife in the kitchen, one in seven Scottsdale residents will call the fire department for help this year.

An average of 32,000 calls for help are made to the Scottsdale Fire Department annually.

In addition to residents, the city estimates an influx of about 58,000 employees commute into the city during the daytime to work.   With 15 fire stations spread throughout the city, the 69 fire personnel on duty 24-hours-a-day are at the beck and call when residents, employees and tourists need their help the most.

Simultaneously, the city operates 38 response apparatus. 9-1-1 calls are answered by the Scottsdale Police Department; and calls for fire department service are transferred to the Phoenix Regional Dispatch Center, a multi-agency public safety dispatch center.

fy_15_16_incident_densityBy using the regional dispatch center, the fire station closest to the address needing help will be dispatched, regardless of city, according to SFD Executive Assistant Fire Chief Ryan Freeburg.

“If it’s for a fire response, our members train regularly on what’s called donning, their personal protective equipment and they have — for a fire emergency — the standard is one minute and 30 seconds from the time you’re aware, to getting all your gear on and getting on the truck,” he said during an Oct. 26 phone interview.

Once in the truck, units aim to arrive at their destination in four minutes.

“Four minutes is the time where tissue of your body begins to die,” he explained. “And in a structure fire, after four minutes of flame on the structure of a building will start to deteriorate. So what we look at is what can I get to in four minutes to mitigate the problem?”

SFD serves an area of approximately 184.5 square miles of which 54 square miles is dedicated to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The amount of time response units spend traveling to an incident exceeds national standards by nearly three minutes, according to a 2015 SFD report titled “Standards of Coverage and Deployment Plan.”

Only 64.6 percent of incidents occurred within the national standard for first unit arrival of four travel minutes of a fire station, the report stated.

“So it’s really up to — besides putting stakes into the right places and understanding where the calls are at — we’re not asking our members to drive as fast as they can because that’s unsafe,” said Mr. Freeburg. “We have guidelines to how fast you can travel on the roadway, and we’re able to turn the lights from red to green with preemptive devices called opticoms, to help us navigate through the street structure as efficiently as we can.”

In an effort to improve response times, the fire entity is in the process of moving two of its northern fire stations into permanent stations and moving a station from Scottsdale and McDonald and Hayden and Indian Bend.

“What we look at is: where do the calls happen and through data and data analysis build our stations where we will serve the greatest number of incidents and greatest number of citizens,” explained Mr. Freeburg. “So will we always get to a call in the four minutes? No.”

The department uses its data to best use its resources, says Mr. Freeburg.

“What we try to do is predict and continue to shrink that time down the best we can,” he said. “Because the reality is, unless you have a fire station or police officer on every corner up and down the city, that’s the only way you’d ever make that happen and that’s financially irresponsible in other ways. So we have to look at our data and put our resources in the most predictable positions to be successful.”

During the Nov. 3, 2015 election, Scottsdale residents approved a bond proposal totaling $16.35 million focused on public safety and fire.

The four projects included are:

  • The design and construction of Fire Station 613 at Desert Foothills at a cost of $5.1 million, which includes the replacement of a temporary modular facility in the Desert Foothills area at Jomax and Hayden roads.
  • The design and construction of Fire Station 616 at Desert Mountain at a cost of $3.7 million, which includes the replacement of a temporary facility with a permanent fire station at 110th Street and Cave Creek Road.
  • The relocation of Fire Station 603 in the McCormick Ranch area at a cost of $6.75 million and includes the purchase of land, design and construction of a new site for Fire Station 603 in the McCormick Ranch area to improve response times to that portion of the city.
  • The renovation of Fire Station 605 at 75th Street and Shea Boulevard at a cost of $800,000 and includes the improvement of the bathrooms, locker rooms, bunk rooms, and kitchen. The renovated apparatus bay area also will include an OSHA compliant decontamination room and personal protective equipment storage.

In Scottsdale, 71.7 percent of all responses are requests for emergency medical service, the report states. Additionally, response workload is the greatest in the fire station 2 service area, which is in the downtown Scottsdale area.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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