Governing Magazine: Why We Need to Take the ‘Fire’ Out of ‘Fire Department’

Oregon’s former Secretary of State, Phil Keisling, weighs in on the reality that most fire departments are primarily responding to EMT calls, and offers some interesting solutions:

This isn’t just a big-city problem. In 2013, a faculty-led research team for Portland State University’s Center for Public Service (which I direct) analyzed two years of 911 calls for three small cities collectively contracting with a nearby city’s fire/EMS department. Known medical calls comprised 75 percent of these incidents.

Our team identified a number of lower-cost operating alternatives, such as adding many more ambulances or specially-designed Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) to produce faster response times. We learned of one jurisdiction that had strategically purchased a three-bedroom house in a high 911-call generating area near a nursing home for an ambulance and its crew.

Vastly increasing the number of pre-positioned ambulances and adding RRVs aren’t the only potential innovations. One veteran firefighter I know suggests motorcycle-riding paramedics, especially during rush-hour traffic jams, equipped with basic medical kits including heart defibrillators.

Unnecessarily high operating costs are the most visible result of clinging to an expensive, “just-in-case” delivery model for this core public service. Another is the unnecessary wear and tear on expensive fire trucks, which can easily cost $1 million or more. (Last year, 4,000 new ones were purchased across the country.).

Perhaps the biggest cost of the status quo is the least discussed. When scarce fire/emergency medical personnel are routinely dispatched for non-emergencies — and then a bona fide, “every-minute-counts” emergency does occur, especially near a now-vacated station — it’s cold comfort when a 10-minute response time from a backup crew is a few minutes too slow to save a 65-year-old in sudden cardiac arrest, or a 7-year-old suffering a severe allergic reaction.

Read the whole article here.

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