Report: Ann Arbor Fire Department struggles to meet response time standards
A final version of a consultant's study of the Ann Arbor Fire Department is out and it shows the department still fails to meet national standards for response times.
The 114-page report expands on a 63-page draft released in December and goes into greater detail about the department's response times, offering several information-filled charts.
The study was conducted by the International City/County Management Association, which the city paid $54,000 to complete the study.
The final report still includes the same 24 recommendations included in the draft, but it adds one additional suggestion: Consider replacing one of the downtown fire trucks with a smaller "quick response vehicle" to further reduce staffing.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"As the data indicates, nearly 80 percent of its responses are to EMS calls," the report states. "The use of a full-size suppression vehicle for EMS response is inappropriate and costly. The AAFD should move to replace it with a QRV."
That could reduce the staffing needed in that particular area to two firefighters. Currently, each fire company in Ann Arbor has a minimum of three firefighters for each truck.
ICMA also recommends quick response vehicles equipped with a new foam technology — and manned by two firefighters instead of three — as a way to reduce staffing by one firefighter at Station 3, 2130 Jackson Ave., and also at Station 4, 2415 Huron Parkway.
The updated version of the study includes significantly more information on the fire department's response times than the previous draft offered.
ICMA looked at whether the fire department is meeting National Fire Protection Association standards for response times and found it's failing to meet the mark.
In further breaking down the response times, ICMA focused on times for the first arriving units during the study period, March 1, 2010, to Feb. 28, 2011.
The total response time — the dispatch, turnout and travel times added up — was 7.2 minutes for medical calls and 8.4 minutes for fires.
The reported "90th percentile response time" — the time it takes 90 percent of the time — was 10.4 minutes for medical calls and 12.3 minutes for fires.
The average dispatch time was 1.7 minutes for medical calls and 1.8 minutes for fires. The average turnout time was 2.1 minutes for medical calls and 2.3 minutes for fires. And the average travel time was 3.4 minutes for medical calls and 4.3 minutes for fires.
NFPA recommends turnout time of 80 seconds or less for fires and 1 minute for emergency medical calls. Meanwhile, NFPA standards state the first fire truck should arrive on the scene of a fire within 4 minutes, so the department isn't meeting that standard.
Broken down by hour of day, the response times varied.
Between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. and between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., the average dispatch time for all calls was 2.5 minutes, a minute higher than most other times.
The average turnout time for all calls between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. was longer than 2.9 minutes, while other times it was 2 minutes or less.
Average travel time for all calls ranged between 3.4 and 4.2 minutes, with the highest times between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. and between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
The total response time for all calls — dispatch, turnout and travel time added up — ranged between 6.8 and 9.5 minutes, with some of the highest times between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Looking specifically at structure fires, on average the first unit's response time was 7.5 minutes, while the second unit's response time was 9.4 minutes.
About 90 percent of the time, the first unit's response time was less than 9.7 minutes, while the second unit's response time was less than 11.8 minutes for structure fire calls.
Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard told AnnArbor.com via email today he has not had a chance to read the latest report yet.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"The report is in the right place with the fire department and I'm looking forward to them bringing recommendations to council," he said. "If there are changes we need to make, how we're going to move on from here, we've got an excellent fire chief with a whole lot of experience and he's got a good group of people working for him who can advise us."
Hieftje commented on the fact that the report recognizes areas where the department needs to improve, while at the same time recommending further cuts. He said he doesn't see anything in the report that links the fire department's challenges to staffing levels.
"The reason we got the report done is so we would know where we stand," he said. "Obviously there are some things in there we wish we were better at."
According to ICMA's analysis, about once every 17 hours, the fire department responded to three or more calls in the same hour.
About once every 50 hours, the fire department responded to four or more calls in the same hour. And during 80 hours of the year, five or more calls occurred within an hour.
ICMA's data shows emergency medical runs lasted on average 15.5 minutes and a fire category call lasted on average 20.2 minutes.
The hour with the most calls received was 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 18, 2010. A total of 16 calls involved 29 runs.
That was the result of two medical calls, two structure fire calls, one outside fire call, nine hazardous condition calls, including wires down, and two alarm calls. The report notes it was the opening day for the Ann Arbor summer festival and there was a thunderstorm.
ICMA also looked at the fire department's response times on medical calls compared to Huron Valley Ambulance. There were nearly 4,500 times during the one-year study period where both the fire department and HVA responded to the same medical call.
The fire department beat HVA to arrive first on the scene about 53.8 percent of the time. HVA's average response time was 7.3 minutes, compared to the fire department's 7.1 minutes.
Further analysis by ICMA revealed that when the fire department arrived on scene earlier than the HVA, on average it arrived 2.5 minutes earlier. And when HVA arrived on scene earlier than the fire department, on average it arrived 2.6 minutes earlier.
The updated version of the study still examines the department's staffing levels from two years ago, when it had 94 full-time employees.
The department has gone through two rounds of cuts since then, dropping staffing levels down to 82 full-time employees. That's the level budgeted this year, and the firefighters union argues the actual number is even lower since a handful of people have left the department.
ICMA recommends in its report that the fire department conduct its own analysis to determine the appropriate fire staffing levels for Ann Arbor.
"This is not to suggest that until a department can conduct these tests, and determine what is adequate for its community's fire problem, any number of firefighters at a fire emergency will suffice," reads a disclaimer from ICMA in the report.
ICMA also recommends the city develop response time standards based on selected methodologies approved by the Ann Arbor City Council.
The report also raises questions about whether it makes sense for Ann Arbor to have consistent 24-hour staffing that doesn't take into account demand levels.
The department is busiest from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the least busy between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., according to ICMA, which recommends reducing staffing during off-peak hours.
ICMA looked at the total deployed time for the fire department over a one-year period and found a total of 2,393 "busy hours."
There were a total of 8,305 runs, averaging 22.8 runs per day. Fire category calls accounted for 37.1 percent of the total workload.
There were 1,262 runs specifically for structure and outside fire calls. That accounted for 15.2 percent of the total workload.
Emergency medical calls accounted for 62.6 percent of the total workload or 5,201 runs.
The department made only 10 runs for mutual aid calls to outside jurisdictions.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.