Vancouver Fire Department exceeds response goals

City councilor praises major improvement

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Vancouver Fire Department has been exceeding emergency response time goals adopted by the city council last year, Chief Joe Molina said Monday.

In 2005, the state Legislature directed fire departments to specify targeted response times, and then report annually on how well those targets are met.

There’s no penalty for not specifying target times, and there are no minimum standards.

Last year was the first time the city council wanted to set such standards.

The clock on the response time starts when a call is received at the firehouse and ends when the first unit arrives at the scene. The response time goals reflect the 90th percentile — that is, 90 percent of calls should have a response time equal to or faster than what’s listed as the standard response time.

In an update to the council on Monday, Molina and Deputy Chief Dan Olson said the department has met goals on all types of calls.

For priority 1 and 2 calls — fires and the most critical medical calls — the standard response time goal is 7 minutes, 59 seconds. For priority 3 and 4 (less critical) calls, the standard response time goal is 10 minutes, 59 seconds.

The actual response time has been 7 minutes, 50 seconds for priority 1 and 2 calls, and 8 minutes, 47 seconds for priority 3 and 4 calls, Olson said.

For priority 5 nonmedical calls, the actual response time has been 9 minutes, 47 seconds; the target is 15 minutes, 59 seconds. An example of a priority 5 nonmedical call would be a bark dust fire, Molina said.

Councilor Jack Burkman said the council had been concerned for years about response times, which had been trending the wrong way. Not only has the department reversed course, the response times are faster than the adopted standards.

“All in all, this is great news,” Burkman said.

‘Turnout’ time

Molina reiterated that the 90th percentile reflects the slow end, and said firefighters make it to 50 percent of priority 1 and 2 calls in less than six minutes.

Like 97 percent of paid professional fire departments nationwide, the Vancouver Fire Department provides emergency medical services. Medical incidents account for about 75 percent of the department’s approximately 23,000 calls a year. The lowest-level (priority 5 and 6) medical calls receive an ambulance-only response.

Molina said he still wants to improve “turnout” time, or the time from when firefighters receive the call to when they leave the station. One idea, he said, would be to install clocks at the stations showing all turnout times and encourage friendly competition about which crew has the fastest turnout time.

Molina will be back before the council in September to discuss new locations for Station 1, now at 900 W. Evergreen Blvd. in downtown, and Station 2, at 400 E. 37th St. in west Vancouver. Both of those stations are scheduled to be rebuilt, and a consultant will help the city determine ideal sites to ensure the best coverage given population trends and locations of the city’s eight other fire stations.