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.
Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 7:02 a.m.
Increased efficiency and better use of resources seems to be needed rather than additional manpower. I like the smaller response vehicle for medical calls.
Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 11:13 p.m.
So when that truck is on a medical and you're house is on fire or you roll your car over, we'll drive past, wave, go pick up the engine with all the right equipment, and drive back and come see ya. Is that 'increased efficiency'?
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.
Response times are ****. GASP.........What? Huh? FD xyz has 20 FF's- ea 1 is carefully placed through out the city of xyz in a hybrid compact, ready to go in an instant. At the end of the day xyz news headline reads "FD xyz has lowest response times in the country and uses less fuel!" Yeah! oh wait... what happened at ea incident when that 1 FF arrived? How the incident is mitigated, whether that be saving lifes, property, or the environment, AFTER arrival is way more important than how long it takes to get there. Oh crap- fires double in size every..(actually depends on whats burning, availabilty of oxygen, air temperature, and a bunch of other cool stuff). As in; the rapid response rig arrives w/2 FF's in 3 min, pulls the joy dish soap hose (Class A foam is **** too) and, um, waits for help. OR the engine arrives in 8 minutes w/ 4 FF's, hooks a hydrant, pulls the hose, searches the building and extinguishes the fire (indeed it is more than a 4 FF job, just a SIMPLE example). If it's my emergency please arrive safely w/enough people to do what I called you to do. Still not buying it? Theres more. Do the stats reflect- at the time of alarm, that: 1 crew member is going #2 or the water tank is being filled from the last call or hose is being re-loaded or a uniform saturated in blood is being changed or the lawn is being mowed or snow shoveled or is the crew training some where other than the station or at a PR event or fueling or is oil being added to the motor or air to the tires or, or, um, or. OK- EMS runs, ambulance xyz arrived in 2 min but it took 12 min to move pt down stairs or FD xyz was there 1st but life saving IV medications weren't administered for 17 min. Are the response times only from a fire house? or from another incident? or another district? right next door? icy roads? My (opinion) point is that this topic has way too many variables to generalize. Great people, at adequate numbers, with good equipment is what is important. ICMA is **** 2
Stephen Lange Ranzini
Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 1:27 a.m.
@Dominick Lanza & @BornNRaised: You've both made very valuable comments (see above) and I hope many people read them! The AAFD needs to hire 13 people ASAP to be staffed as recommended in the study. Do we also need another one or two fire inspectors?
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.
The updated version of the study still examines the department's staffing levels from two years ago, when it had 94 full-time employees. I find these numbers fascinating. I am intrigued by all of the different ways you can look at information. And, I like how it helps to see areas that can be improved on - within all of the contributing departments in this case. What I am having trouble with is integrating this information ------- that was based on having more personnel, different response protocol, and even varying numbers of working fire stations from whence to travel from -------- into what is going on at the fire department today. One more downfall of a study that cost close to the annual salary of one firefighter.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.
Why is a private company like HVA dispatching for all of our municipal fire departments, anyone else see this as problematic. I have no idea what type of training and supervision goes on at hva. I'm all for our capitalist democracy but I have to admit I don't think our public safety should be left up to the lowest bidder. Also for a non-profit HVA seems to pay its higher-ups a lot more than it's paramedics. We can argue all day about pay/benefits for our public safety workers but I've always believed that our police and firefighters deserve a good living wage, I feel our paramedics are heroes in our community and HVA is a dispicable company that pays its administration a ton of money and takes advantage of its hourly employees.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.
I believe ICMA's report is biased toward supporting those who commissioned the study without fully understanding the day to day operations and challenges of the fire service. Get on their website and look at who they are and their mission statement. They said in the initial draft they think IAFF and NFPA's minimum staffing levels are off-base. Since ICMA is not made up of people knowledgeable about the fire service, how can anyone take that opinion seriously? The number of people entering a building is about saving a life and the safety of the responders. Regarding the staffing levels during off-peak hours, I don't think most fatalities happen during broad daylight, but that tidbit seems to have been overlooked. ICMA also had an opportunity to go back and run their numbers with 2011 staffing levels and they didn't. If they are going to question response times, why not examine the accuracy of the directions and information from dispatch, unless of course it might expose issues with the new dispatch system and not lay all the blame at the feet of AAFD. Are there issues that need fixing? Certainly. But slashing more positions and outfitting AAFD with gigantic cans of Burma Shave is not the answer.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.
I agree. There are problems. They need fixing. Things could be made better. Cutting positions is not the answer. It would be interesting to know the number of fatalities within these numbers. When do the most fatalities occur? What kind of call results in the most fatalities? What hours are that type of call most prominent? Then again, as has been mentioned, how can you really predict when what kind of emergency will occur? You might be able to say when it is most likely to occur based on the numbers taken, in a certain manner, during a certain time span, etc But, emergencies are inherently unpredictable.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.
Looks like the gubment (AAFD) beats the private sector (HVA) to the scene.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.
You going to give us your input again based on Scio Fire and how you don't want them at your house? You know this is an article about AAFD right? I'm curious Elaine, when the FD shows up, do you ask them to leave? You ALWAYS have the right to tell them that you'll sign a refusal form. That states you requested no fire department personnel assist you. Or do you allow them to do their jobs in SCIO helping your husband only to blog about them alter?
Elaine F. Owsley
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.
Also, they can't seem to answer this regarding the PU truck with only 2 people on it down town to replace the engine. They don't seem to want to acknowledge that there's only one truck in service down town. It has 3 people on it. Back when we had a full staff there was 3. A Tower, Rescue, and Engine. Now it's just the Rescue. That has, firefighting, medical, water rescue, technical rescue, and heavy extrication equipment on it. So do they want that out of service now and replaced with a P/U truck? Remember the trauma a while back where the construction worker fell from the parking structure? A pickup doesn't have any equipment on it to speak of. So are we supposed to stare and both trucks and have a discussion on what to take based on what we hope the call will be like? Also, response times? Why don't they talk about the additional 2-3 minutes the call is at dispatch before it gets relayed to the FD. That's average. To be fair, they briefly hit on that, but then state WE fail to meet response times. There are NUMEROUS times when it's been over 15 minutes. That's not HVA's fault. That's due to the system Fraser put in place before he left. Remember, he called it "just an experiment". But now our feet are being held to the fire?!?!?! That's like complaining that it took us 5 minutes to get to a fire across the street. When we don't get dispatched until 3 minutes after the call came in, where is the real problem?
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:09 p.m.
BnR, are you saying that response times have increased because the fire trucks are leaving later since they are now not "asked" to leave until HVA determines that the FD help is needed? Whereas before they were dispatched "immediately" at the same time as HVA?
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.
So am I reading this chart wrong? Figure 26 shows the difference between HVA and AAFD response times. It shows AAFD beating them in all areas but one. "Fall and Injury" reason for that is that Fraser decided that's one of the areas we don't need to respond to. So HVA gets on scene, then calls for FD to assist. But whatever... The concern I have, even though this report is supposed to be all about the FD is the medical response times. People will argue until the end of time whether or not FD should respond to medicals. Consider this... Over 50% of the time FD beats hva, and by over 2 minutes. The concern I have is the model of the two agencies. HVA has medics sitting in a running rig 24 hours a day which are supposed to be strategically placed throughout the city. When they get a radio call, they put it in drive and are on the way. The FD get dispatched after HVA generally by a couple of minutes minimum. We have to get dressed, start the truck, pull out, and call responding. And we're still beating them. I'm not knocking HVA, I'm trying to bring to light some facts for those that argue they don't 'need us'. If you don't need emergency responders to your front door right away, should you have really called 911? For those that call and say, "I just need an ambulance." If you're self diagnosing yourself and you just need a ride to the hospital, shouldn't you be calling a cab? You're saying you don't need the fastest response, just a ride. Kind of makes you wonder....
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.
I'm unclear if there's a point you're trying to make, or if you're just trying to start another argument.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.
are you not a "first" responder.. Are "first" responders supposed to arrive second??
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.
So wouldn't a more accurate headline be "AAFD FAILS to meet response time standards"? Isn't that the truth of the matter and what the FACTS show?
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.
Ann Arbor has or used to run out of six stations. It is my understanding that one of these has been closed, I believe #2 on Stadium -- this then has an impact on response time. The stations are located in various parts of the area so they can respond in a more efficient way. There used to be a smaller vehicle used for emergencies -- is that no longer around. Maybe we can take come art funds and purchase a smaller vehicle for those emergency runs -- because AAFD is still first on the scene in any given situation. I also say bring the staffing back to par -- along with AAPD.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.
Appalling! There go our home owner's insurance rates up!
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.
To me, the biggest takeaway for any person living in Ann Arbor is Chart 27, which shows that the overall response time is around 7-8 minutes. The key fact here is, that's how long it takes from the time the call comes in. It doesn't include the time required for recognizing that an emergency has occurred and making the call. On that basis, and to provide for worst-possible-case scenarios, people who live in Ann Arbor should plan, train and equip themselves to be able to deal with a worst-case emergency for a period of 10 to 15 minutes. That's double the charted response time, which should be a good margin. On the other hand, that's a long time to be on your own in an emergency; much longer than most people are prepared for. Up your preparation, folks. Don't get caught short.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.
If they are using the staffing of 94 FTE's and they recommend cutting one person (three shifts) at station 3 that would reduce FTE's to 91. Currently the department has 82 FTE's so using the study and its math and suggestions the city needs to hire 9 employees to bring FTE's to the level they recommend is how I read it.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:39 a.m.
We're down to 78 people now.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.
The dept is busiest between 10am and 10pm so the recommendation is to cut staffing on off demand times. I didn't know emergencies had a time set to occur. The staff level is set to be able to respond safely regardless.Is everything about the bottom line?
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:02 p.m.
Ann Arbor apparently has difficulty knowing what the bottom line is considering the surprise of almost a million dollar surplus in the general fund....
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.
Thats not to say I believe the way to get to the bottom line is to sacrifice public safety while funding art (the poster-child of the moment). I think public safety is a core duty of Government. Before parks, art, most anything you could name.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.
".Is everything about the bottom line?" yes, to the extent that the bottom line is a balanced budget. Since only the Federal Government can print money and borrow up the wazoo other Governmental entities need to pay attention to the bottom line.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:44 p.m.
just curious, for fires, how much more can they spread between the recommended response time and the current actual response time? (granted there are so many variables with fires) but as others have pointed out I hope if the citys response time/fire rating/whatever goes down homeowners insurance won't go up. If they figure more fires will end with total loss of the structure and contents it will suck for homeowners.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 4:59 a.m.
@jack, and it's not always the fire that is the problem, the smoke and water damage always adds to the mess!
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.
It is my understanding that fires increase in size according to available fuel and air: * Slow developing fires - Double in size every 120 seconds; * Medium developing fires - Double in size every 60 seconds; * Fast developing fires - Double in size every 30 seconds. <a href="http://www.firetactics.com/FIRE%20GROWTH%20&%20FLOW-RATE.pdf" rel='nofollow'>http://www.firetactics.com/FIRE%20GROWTH%20&%20FLOW-RATE.pdf</a>
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:30 p.m.
The statistics are congruent with those I found with while serving as a citizen volunteer on Scio Township's Public Safety Committee a few years ago. The bottom line is that our Fire Departments are really more than just firefighters... they're also medical first responders. They often get to a call and stabilize the victims/patients before HVA gets there. Other times it's vice versa. Cutting or not having enough of either can be a life and death issue. For those who feel that the summaries are mistaken, get a copy of the data and do your own analyses ...and report back. It should only take you several days of work.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:52 a.m.
I don't get your point steve h. Could you clarify?
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.
Call a cab craig
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:02 p.m.
"The bottom line is that our Fire Departments are really more than just firefighters... they're also medical first responders. They often get to a call and stabilize the victims/patients before HVA gets there." Given that those sorts of responses make up the largest portion of there calls what we really need is more EMS vehicles. It is in the best interest of anyone in need to have an EMS unit as the first on the scene. For the simple reason that an EMS unit can transport a patient to a hospital and a fire truck can't.
Elaine F. Owsley
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.
Routinely when I have called for an ambulance, because of my husband's health situation, I have a hulking big fire truck sitting in the road as well, burning expensive diesel fuel and blocking my neighbors. I have gone so far as to request "no firetruck, just send an ambulance" and still some kind of firefighting rig will come along. This is Scio Township, so AA is not the only guilty party. I relieve that it is just a chance for the fire departments to register another "response" when it has nothing to do with them.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.
It was funny reading defending comments about how 'some people' can't lift their own equipment. Kind of hard to defend something when we get to watch it with our own eyes. Maybe I need someone to explain to me that I'm not really seeing what I'm seeing. lol!
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 4:57 a.m.
@steve h, I use this example b/c it happened twice. Equal rights for whom? the patient deserves to have responders able to do the job completely. That should happen on the first call not a second back up request and other 8 mins of waiting for help. Equal rights and equal opprotunity are different. Sure, woman should have the equal opprotunity to do a job, but if certain criteria, like lifting and carrying an injured person down the stairs isn't something they can physically do then maybe the job isn't for that particular woman. My example must really get at you for some reason. Just sayin' @A2 medic, sorry, confused by your response. I don't mind that fire shows up at 911 calls, I was commeting on Elaines "complaint" regarding an idling firetruck in her street.
Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.
@bunny.. So you would rather have an increased risk of injury to the patient and medics than get additional assistance to assure a safe transfer?? Makes sense to me!!
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.
Sorry bunny. That's called equal rights and being politically correct. And could you please get another example. You always use this one
Elaine F. Owsley
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.
I was thankful for the EMT's and the ambulance. Had something been on fire, I would have been thankful for the fire truck as well.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.
Did I miss the part about being thankful?
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.
we've called for an just had an ambulance arrive. However the women that came out were both petite and could not lift and maneuver the person on the stretcher down the stairs and had to call for assistance from fire. The responding fireman came in and with little effort got the person out. Seems like strength should be a job requirement.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.
i know where they can take money from to buy a smaller truck and keep the staffing to a safe level. TRY THE ART FUND. they now have 1.8 mill. better to put up windmills than buy a fire truck?
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.
"As the data indicates, nearly 80 percent of its responses are to EMS calls," the report states. There were a total of 8,305 runs Emergency medical calls accounted for 62.6 percent of the total workload or 5,201 runs The report authors apparently are unable to do third grade level math. Makes me wonder how many more flaws are in it.
Ryan J. Stanton
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:02 p.m.
The 80 percent figure is for the fire truck they're proposing the city replace with a quick response vehicle. The other figures you're mixing in here are reported as the total runs for all trucks.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.
ugh, and whatever happened to: <a href="http://www.annarbor.com/news/new-protocols-have-ann-arbor-firefighters-responding-to-less-emergency-medical-calls/">http://www.annarbor.com/news/new-protocols-have-ann-arbor-firefighters-responding-to-less-emergency-medical-calls/</a> "But under new protocols put in place this month, Ann Arbor firefighters now respond only to the most serious emergency medical calls — those classified as "Category 3."" This article on your outlet dated 4/28/11. How does this figure into the stats and recommendations above? "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." Pathetic
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.
If there is even a remote chance that the call could become a true medical emergency HVA considers it to be serious. Only a tiny fraction of EMS calls are classed as a none emergency. HVA really likes having the fire departments respond to assist them.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.
Ya Think??... This is not new news, but very important news.
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:15 p.m.
More public art!!!
Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.