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Fire District forms response standard

When South Kitsap residents need an ambulance, most likely the only thing they’re concerned about is how long it will take for the vehicle to reach them after they call 911. And thanks to a recent document compiled by South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Operations Chief Gary Faucett can tell them.

Called the Standard of Response Coverage, the document serves as both a service manual for the responders and a performance evaluation for the callers.

To the department, it dictates who and what will respond to each 911 call, while to the community, it describes the level and speed of emergency service residents can expect from the fire district.

“It is the single most important document in the department regarding how emergency units respond to 911 calls,” Faucett said. “We live this document; every firefighter knows how to respond, and those responses are based on the standard of coverage.”

Prepared as a necessary component of the process to receive accreditation from the Commission on Fire Service Accreditation International (CFAI), Faucett said the coverage outlined in the document is based on state requirements, national standards and self-analysis of the department’s procedures.

This is only the second time the department has created such a document, he said, explaining that the first was prepared in 2000 under former Chief Mike Brown for the district’s first — and successful — attempt at accreditation. The document was updated this year, Faucett said, because accreditation must be renewed every five years.

To explain how the document affects procedures, Faucett described a hypothetical 911 call from a house in Manchester reporting a heart attack. As soon as a dispatcher receives the call and obtains an address, the victim’s residence appears on a map and a number designating the response zone is displayed on the screen as part of CAD, or Computer Automated Dispatcher.

Based on the zone number and the type of call — fire, Advanced Life Support (ALS) or Basic life Support (BLS) — CAD determines for the dispatcher what and how many aid cars are needed and from where.

The program’s determination, Faucett said, is based on the information compiled in the standard of response document.

To compile such information, detailed data on every incident is recorded, Faucett said. During and after every call, the incident commander and every engine or aid unit who responded to the scene must report when they arrived, what they did, and when they left, and each provide a narrative based on their perspective.

Such information paints an accurate portrait of what and how quick a response his department can actually provide, not just what is ideal.

“Accreditation takes accepted national best practices and ensures (our) organization is working within those standards,” Faucett said. “But the process is also flexible, however, because the national standards can’t be applied across the board to everyone. When it comes down to it, we can only provide the service the community wants and pays for.”

To explain his point, he said for certain incidents the national standard might call for four firefighters to respond to every fire call or for two medics to ride on every truck.

“But we don’t have the staff to do that,” he said. “We have enough people to satisfy the law, and then some, but we don’t have the money for more. We still are defined by local needs and local constraints. Our standard of coverage shows we need more firefighters on the line, but we’ve tried three times to pass a levy and the public said ‘no.’”

The staffing need is that much more apparent in the latest document, he said, because it is significantly different that the previous standard in its estimation of response times.

The first document, he said, detailed goals as response times, rather than the actual times. However, he said Chief Wayne Senter, who took over from now-retired Chief Brown in December, decided this time the department would report what the actual times were.

“He said that our standard will be what we actually do and what we actually are,” Faucett said. “We owe it to the community to report what we actually do and can do for them, (because) they have a right to know what they can expect from us.”

While in the previous document responses times may have been reported as eight minutes the majority of the time, Faucett said, the current document reports the actual response time for certain areas is frequently much higher.

For rural areas like Olalla, the standard reports that for priority and non-priority calls, the first unit arrived within eight minutes less than half the time, or 48.96 percent.

So Faucett said the department reported its standard for such calls as 14.5 minutes, the time frame most units arrived within 90 percent of the time.

“That doesn’t mean the fire district isn’t working toward the eight-minute mark, but to make any real improvements, we need to start from what we actually do,” he said.

Faucett said above anything else, response times for his vehicles are limited to the same constraints as anyone else — travel time. Even with the sirens blazing, an ambulance or fire truck is not going to get to a home more than a minute or so faster than your average driver, he said, without breaking the laws of physics or driving faster than safety allows.

Another few seconds can be shaved by staff sleeping in their vehicles and with their clothes on, he said, but “the only thing that will change the times significantly is more people,” he said.

The response times suffer, he said, because often the closest unit to an emergency call is already responding to another, so the next closest unit, which may be in Burley or Gorst, will have to respond.

Faucett said the fire district will find out in two months if the latest standard, including the higher response times, will pass muster with CFAI.

In May, an accreditation team will visit the station to see if the information holds true and “to see if we live the document,” Faucett said. “If they find discrepancies, they won’t accredit us.”

For more information on the response standard or to receive a copy, contact the fire district at 871-2411 or www.kitsapfire7.org.

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