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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

If you are a Glendale resident who follows my blog and if you have family members, friends, acquaintances or neighbors who would benefit from knowing what is happening in our community please take a moment to send them a link to my site: http://joyceclarkunfiltered.com . Thank you.

Before I launch into telling you more than you probably want to know about Automatic Aid and its use in the Phoenix Metropolitan area there are some facts to be shared about the Glendale Fire Department’s response times.

Fact #1: In a recent news article Glendale Fire Chief Mark Burdick was asked about the response time of the department and he answered with the response time of the department for the last 5 years. The times you see below are either the average or median of all times. Not every call is answered in 8 minutes. Some are far less and some are far more. One would assume that multiple EMS calls coming into the dispatch center are prioritized by severity of the medical status. Burdick stated the Glendale Fire Department response times for 90 percent of calls by year:

  • 2010 8 minutes 11 seconds
  • 2011 8 minutes 10 seconds
  • 2012 8 minutes 6 seconds
  • 2013 8 minutes 12 seconds
  • 2014 8 minutes 12 seconds

Fact #2: Glendale is one of ten cities in the state accredited by the non-profit organization, The Center for Public Safety Excellence. This agency is responsible for accrediting individuals and agencies internationally. It is a much coveted accreditation and the men and women of the Glendale Fire Department are proud to have earned it. The agency recognized that the Glendale Fire Department meets its requirements in terms of response times.

Fact #3: A legal definition is “Automatic aid means contractual agreement between two agencies, communities or fire districts to assist the nearest available resource to the incident by disregarding the jurisdictional boundaries. It is usually established on a mutual use basis. It is dispatched without a formal request. It is usually the first type of mutual aid to arrive at an incident scene.” (http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/automatic-aid/).

Here is an example. An emergency call is received at a residence on the south side of Camelback Road (Glendale’s southern boundary) and 75th Avenue in Phoenix. The Phoenix fire station that typically would respond is out on another call. The next nearest fire station that can respond is in Glendale. The Glendale unit would be dispatched to the call. Or there is an emergency call at a Glendale residence at 59th Avenue and Northern Avenue. The nearest Glendale unit is in service. The nearest unit not in service is in Phoenix and would be dispatched to answer the Glendale call. In essence, when there is a call for service automatic aid allows the closest available fire unit to respond to the call ignoring municipal boundaries. It’s a great system because it insures that a person in distress will receive the quickest care available. So what’s the problem?

Automatic Aid began its use in the 1976 and was originally created between Phoenix, Glendale and Tempe. Today 23 Valley governmental agencies are participants in the Valley’s automatic aid system. They are: * Chandler Fire DepartmentDaisy Mountain Fire DepartmentGlendale Fire DepartmentMesa Fire DepartmentPhoenix Fire DepartmentScottsdale Fire DepartmentTempe Fire DepartmentAvondale Fire-RescueGilbert Fire DepartmentGuadalupe Fire DepartmentPeoria Fire DepartmentTolleson Fire DepartmentEl Mirage Fire DepartmentGoodyear Fire DepartmentQueen Creek Fire DepartmentSun City Fire DistrictApache Junction Fire DistrictBuckeye Fire DepartmentBuckeye Valley Fire DistrictMaricopa Fire DepartmentSun City West Fire DistrictSun Lakes Fire DistrictSurprise Fire Department.

Here is the document signed by the 23 participating agencies: AZ Automatic aid . I am not presenting the entire document within the body of this blog as it is 11 pages. Please go to the link I have provided to read the document. Its basic components include:

  • The closest, most appropriate, unit to an emergency responds regardless of the political jurisdiction of the incident or the responders.
  • All of the fire departments within automatic aid act as one large system. The system is seamless. There are no requirements for formally requesting aid.
  • The incident commander on the scene of the emergency calls for resources in a standard way and they are immediately dispatched.
  • Fire departments use the same dispatching, command, and tactical procedures. The dispatch system is capable of accommodating the needs of individual jurisdictions.
  • Automatic aid is a two-way street. Aid is given and received without a regular accounting of who goes where. Joint long-term planning solves coverage issues at borders.
  • Ambulance response is governed by the Certificate of Need issued by the State of Arizona.
  • No reimbursement for expenses incurred during a response except where agreed to by the parties. Specific disaster reimbursements are permitted.

Requirements of all participating agencies include:

  • Membership by the department’s fire chief or principle assistant in the Central Arizona Life Safety Response System Council.
  • All fire departments utilize the same tactical and command procedures. All battalion chiefs must attend a minimum of 9 monthly training sessions.
  • Radio coverage must be provided that allows portable radios to be heard by the dispatch center, including in-building coverage.
  • Fire companies, engines and ladders, must be staffed with a minimum of four firefighters on-duty.
  • Compatible equipment inventories and company functions. Apparatus numbering according to Valley-wide plan.
  • Mobile computers and automatic vehicle location equipment.
  • Standard dispatch assignments with the ability to tailor response to specific areas.

There is no doubt that automatic aid is a wonderful system and certainly is critical, very critical, to the Valley’s fire service delivery system. Although it may have been updated over the 40 years of its existence I could find nothing to substantiate it. Whether it has been updated previously or not it is time to not only update the agreement but to reform it. In Part 2 of this blog we will look at specific provisions of the agreement in need of reform that would be of benefit to the participating agencies and their taxpayers.

© Joyce Clark, 2015

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Glendale is not the only municipality facing financial pressure. One has only to look at Phoenix’s $37 million shortfall. Many municipalities are adopting new strategies to cut their budgets. One area of a municipal budget that merits further scrutiny is the fire department. Let’s look at Glendale.

Public Safety consumes over two thirds (67%) of Glendale’s General Fund. Glendale’s proposed  FY 2014-15 budget shows a total police department budget of $77,604,581 and a total fire department budget of $36,744,314 (roughly half that of police). The police department has total personnel of 537 and the fire department has total personnel of 267 (roughly half that of police). Everything tracks. The police department has twice the personnel and twice the total budget as that of the fire department. Except in one, major area – Overtime (OT), Hourly & Specialized Pays. You would expect the fire department expense in this line item to track at about half that of the police department. Not so.  The police department line item figure for OT in the FY 2014-15 budget is $1,675,000 covering 537 personnel. Astoundingly, the fire department OT line item figure is slightly higher than that of police’s at $1,681,000 covering 267 people.  Clearly, the fire department’s OT, Hourly & Specialized Pays is out of control.

So, we know the police department’s budget and personnel are twice that of the fire department’s with the exception of Overtime Pay in which they spend virtually the same amount. How can that be? The fire department’s practice of Constant Staffing requiring 4 people on each fire truck is creating unsustainable demands for overtime pay.

There is one other piece of information that is important to consider. In FY 2013-14 the Glendale Fire Department answered 30,040 EMS (Emergency Medical Service) calls; 3,570 fire calls; 2,238 miscellaneous calls and 619 special operations calls. Glendale’s medical calls have become the “elephant in the room” for the fire department. Its medical calls are ten times that of fire calls. Obviously the fire department’s mission has evolved over time. Its first priority is now medical response and fire suppression response, while still critical, has become its secondary mission.

Municipalities across the nation are recognizing the tremendous financial burdens placed upon them in covering the costs of fire department overtime as well as the costs associated with sending a large fire truck to a medical emergency. And they are beginning to act.

In Spokane, Washington as of January 2, 2013 the city decided that three fire stations and one ladder station would start using smaller vehicles on medical calls as opposed to the larger ladder trucks, which age quickly and operating and maintaining them was becoming more and more expensive. They decided it was important to spend their limited resources wisely taking into account that 78% of those three stations’ calls were medical.

Here’s another example: The Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (TVF&R) near Portland, Ore., was one of the early adopters of a fire/ALS deployment model using smaller vehicles. The department initiated its “Car Program” in 2010 as the way to respond to the increasing demand for EMS in a more efficient and effective manner. With 80% EMS calls, the department searched for a way to effectively respond to lower-priority requests for service and still maintain readiness for major emergency incidents. Instead of deploying a four-person staffed $400,000 full-size apparatus, the department purchased a $31,000 Toyota FJ Cruiser and staffed it with a single fire paramedic to handle calls such as minor traffic accidents, community service requests and lower-priority medical emergencies.

Or… In August 2012, the city of Grand Rapids, Mich., received a report that highlighted the recent trend of fire department rightsizing. The ICMA (International City Managers Association) made 22 recommendations to Grand Rapids municipal leaders that included a variety of changes to the fire department’s EMS response. One of the first recommendations was to eliminate five full-size fire department apparatus and replace them with smaller, more cost effective RRVs. The result was an estimated savings of $2.1 million.

And this… The Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) began providing rescue services in the late 1950s with the use of panel vans that carried firefighters to the scene of motor vehicle accidents and other requests for non-fire suppression services. This model of prehospital care delivery was retained as the LACoFD became one of the nation’s first fire ALS providers in the early 1970s. Today, the department still delivers ALS care by way of quick-response squad trucks staffed with firefighter paramedic personnel. The primary benefit of this ALS model is that it ensures a better utilization of resources while maintaining a cost-effective response. When an LACoFD squad arrives, the paramedic can determine if ALS care is required and then either accompany a contracted ambulance transport provider or return to service for another response.

San Jose, California as well as other cities across the nation are considering or have already reduced the number of firefighters on each response truck. It has proven to provide fire departments with more flexibility and better coverage. Four people on each engine to answer a medical call, was impracticable. Neighboring agencies, like Santa Clara County Fire, already assigns just three people per engine. The reasoning was that since 94% of all calls are medical, the Santa Clara County Fire Department was over deploying.

The practice of responding to medical calls with full-size apparatus is proving to be an expensive and inappropriate use of equipment. One deployment concept that appears to be gaining as an option for the fire service to meet both a decrease in budget and an increase in the demand for organizational efficiency is the transition from full-size fire apparatus to smaller rapid-response vehicles (RRVs). Some departments have used this concept for years to deploy ALS personnel to the scene of a medical emergency and to work in conjunction with other apparatus on fire suppression incidents. Fire departments must embrace new approaches to the deployment of their EMS resources by using peak demand staffing and changes to apparatus.

The “right resource, right place and right time” model has become the key concept for the deployment of fire EMS first response resources. Adopting a clinical, financial and operational strategy; and changing and rightsizing EMS resources appears to be the answer to many of the challenges faced by fire departments today. The modern fire service is now expected to be innovative and able to change its business practices by recognizing  evolutions in the response to the majority of service requests, especially as a majority of calls are now medically related.

As we move toward a change in the nation’s healthcare delivery system based on accountability and clinical outcome, the department that can adapt to new norms will be the most successful.

Models with reduction of personnel on response units and redeployment of those personnel to reduce overtime and the use of small, medical response units staffed with fire paramedics are being used successfully throughout the country.

It’s time to right size the Glendale fire department. Will the Glendale City Council have the strength of will to request that changes be made? Will the Glendale fire department and more importantly, the Glendale fire union, innovate and adapt to the reality of shrinking resources and the increased demand for more effective, reasonably priced medical response? Or will they use the buzz words of “diminished service and response time” to fight it?

© Joyce Clark, 2014

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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