Response Time...Reasoning

I'm sure by now most of you have read the accounts of the latest changes that relate to New York City firefighters and how they should respond to calls. Yeah, some eyebrow-raising stuff that really can effect us all either directly or indirectly. Announces Weekly Podcast/Online Radio Show 'Through the Smoke' with Billy Goldfeder
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But first, as you also have probably read, on Friday night (6-3-05) FDNY Ladder 27 was involved in a very serious crash that left an off-duty police officer in critical but stable condition with reported head injuries. The firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Who did what is still not clear. But what is clear is this is the first serious FDNY crash since the mayor has accused the city's fire union leaders of deliberately slowing response times to emergencies as part of a "plot" to reopen closed firehouses and increase staffing. The claims are that the firefighters were deliberately stopping at every red light and stop sign to make response times look bad, instead of rolling through them.

Now when I mention "latest" FDNY changes, I am not talking about where the cops now have command over HazMat incidents, over the FDNY HazMat Unit who is probably the most qualified hazmat team in the nation. No, no, no-not that one silly.

This time it's the issue of how FDNY apparatus drivers drive their apparatus when going to emergency calls. At odds are the mayor and the commissioner who wants members to get to calls quickly so that response times remain low. Makes sense.

On the other side are the members and especially someone who I think is one of the most effective union presidents in the USA, Pete Gorman of the UFOA, urging members to drive carefully and to not run red lights or stop signs without stopping and using extreme caution. That protects his members and the public.

Before we go any further, I generally think that we, that means all of us at all fire departments, probably drive too fast going to some calls. And sometimes that's the problem, the calls. Some calls require lights and sirens, for example when we hear "people trapped" etc, we are going to drive a little quicker. OK, a lot quicker.

On the other hand, there are still fire departments responding lights and sirens to carbon monoxide alarms or automatic alarms that have come in three or four times in the past 24 hours. Makes no sense. Kind of like a child/person choking (faster response) and a person with a headache (not as fast of a response).

How hard is it to figure out the difference? I mean, it's no secret that I am not what one would call an EMS person, although I think our fire-medics at my department (LSFD) are amongst the best I have ever seen. They clearly save lives and provide a level of care that most communities only dream of. But they understand when to go a little quicker and when to go a little slower. Is our chief concerned about response times? Absolutely. But he is more concerned about our members arriving safely. It's pretty simple since his philosophy is if we get there, we can do what the folks called us to do from the start. If we don't get there, everyone loses.

Not real tough to understand.

So now, we read in New York City that those in charge are instructing members to not stop at red lights and the unions are telling members to stop at red lights and stop signs, make sure it is safe, and then proceed through carefully. Why wouldn't you stop? It's real clear that your department, and you, the driver, can personally be held responsible and liable when there is a crash.

Let's look at a few other factors in response times. Factors such as:

  • 9-1-1 call taking time. Ya wanna get worked up over response times? Take a look at call taking time...that's from the time the phone call is answered to the time the call taker hangs up.
  • Call processing time. How long does it take your dispatch center to process the call and get the tones out once the call taker hangs up? In some places it happens simultaneously. In others, there are some serious delays for whatever reason. But that is part of response times.
  • Tone out time? In some places-it takes minutes to get all the tones out. Some places have a tone for the pagers, a tone for the lights, a tone for the garage doors, a tone for the fire whistle and a tone for the tones. Intelligent.

And here is one of my favorites.

Firefighter turn-out time, again, all part of response times. Turn out time is from the time the tones go off at the firehouse and the time it takes the members to get on the apparatus and leave for the call. In some towns it takes several minutes because the members are coming from home or work. In some towns the members are in the apparatus and on the road in seconds, safely but quickly. They remember what they are there for.

But in some towns it also takes minutes because the on-duty in-station firefighters forgot what they are there for. I once stood in front of a firehouse where an engine company was dispatched for an EMS assist, a chest pains call. Chest pains generally suck and someone was having them and wanted the fire department to make the chest pains go away. A reasonable request. And so the apparatus driver came out, started his engine, got out of it, lit a cigarette as he waited for the rest of the crew.

He was another M.I.U. (Moron in Uniform).

It's 2005 and if you hate going to EMS calls and that's part of your job at the fire department, career or volunteer, it's time for a career change. Go hang out somewhere else. Kind of like a baker that hates the smell of flour or the shoe salesman that hates the smell of feet. Wrong business pal.

Yeah, I know, the EMS call abuse, people waiting four hours to call, drunken clowns puking and all that other stuff. Deal with it because for every abuse call there is someone who really needs you with your EMS skills, your comforting skills, your de-fib, your trauma gear and your crappy attitude and all.

And one of the most important factors in response times; the location of the firehouse. Location, location, location. And of course that has to do with planning to put the firehouses in the best spots and to factor in all the ISO stuff. Folks who live in rural areas get longer response times. That's a part of the no-hydrants, lots of cows and just a little noise and traffic package that those folks get when they live out there. Long response times are expected.

But now back to New York City. The cops run the 9-1-1 system so the call handling time is not in the fire department