Opinion

Fire district’s standard of coverage | Guest column

How does your fire department determine where to put staffing and equipment in the community? South Kitsap Fire and Rescue (SKFR), as an accredited fire agency, maintains and operates under a document called the Standard of Coverage (SOC).

Each accredited agency is required to draft an SOC that is specific to the community they serve. The SOC becomes the master document that guides the deployment and utilization of the community’s resources in providing fire and emergency medical services.

The document breaks down the community into areas classified by population density. Emergency service agencies have historically found that population density tends to generate a greater need for service. These areas of higher population create a higher call volume and also have an expectation for quicker service.

An example of how this expectation for timely service varies is expressed in a simple breakdown of time and distance. If you are in downtown Port Orchard and break your arm, you have a different expectation for help to arrive than if you had the same injury on Blake Island or another rural area of the district. The major challenge here is the time it takes the responders to travel from where they are to where the emergency is located.

There are three density classifications within the 118 square miles that make up the South Kitsap community. They are urban, suburban, and rural. Geographically, SKFR has 4 percent urban, 11 percent suburban and 85 percent rural. The majority of people, 51percent of the 72,240 population served, are located within the urban and suburban areas, and 61 percent of all emergency calls for service occur inside these urban and suburban areas.

SKFR’s SOC is based upon industry-best practices and nationally recognized standards for total response times. The time expectations for urban areas are shorter (quicker response) than for the suburban and rural areas of the community. This is based partly on the expected risks in the areas and the time it takes to travel the greater distances involved in the suburban and rural responses.

The services provided by any fire rescue organization are time sensitive. SKFR responds to both fire and emergency medical requests for service, each of these have a time sensitive aspect to them. Fires grow at an exponential rate in what we call a time/temperature/survivability curve. Emergency medical treatment for cardiac arrests, respiratory distress, or uncontrolled bleeding has a 4 to 6 minute timeframe for successful interventions to be delivered.

SKFR staffs eight of the 16 fire stations in the South Kitsap community on a 24-hour basis. All of these stations, except for one, have two personnel on duty. Station 31 (Tremont Street) in Port Orchard is the exception with four on-duty.

All Firefighters are either Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) or Paramedics because over 70% of our work is emergency medical. Each two-person fire station has a medical vehicle and fire engine. Depending on the nature of the call, that crew takes the appropriate vehicle.

Each emergency task has been analyzed to determine how many people are needed and what skills and tools they need to provide a successful outcome. We call this critical tasking and the effective response force. A person complaining of chest pain requires four people, one of which must be certified as a Paramedic the other three as EMTs. On a typical house fire the effective response force consists of 13.

Since our community is geographically large, we find better medical outcomes by staffing fire stations with crews of two. This allows teams of two to arrive quicker to begin stabilizing the patient. We measure how long it takes the initial team and the entire effective response force to arrive on all calls.

Spreading the teams of two throughout the district improves what we call reliability for our initial response. Initial crews can start medical treatment or fire suppression activities as additional help responds from the next-closest stations. In cases involving medical aid, EMT crews can start basic life support as a tiered response of advanced life-support units respond in behind them. This type of layered response has proven to provide the best level of success in a community as diverse as South Kitsap.

Accreditation and its industry-best standards mean that we constantly look for the best method of service delivery with the resources our community funds. It has positioned us to continue a credible emergency service delivery program as we enter our 12th year as an accredited agency through the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

If you have questions regarding this article, please call me at (360) 895-6502 or email at swright@skfr.org.

 

Steve Wright, Deputy Chief

South Kitsap Fire & Rescue

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