20 Tough Questions For the Fire Chief: Are You Prepared To Answer Them? Question 2

The primary responsibility of your fire department is to deliver fire, rescue and life-safety services to your community. To provide these services, fire departments have historically placed stations throughout their response areas based on the premise of...


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• Appropriate staffing model. One essential consideration in evaluating response times and station location is the organizational staffing model. It is strategic for volunteer departments to locate stations in areas where volunteers live and/or work. The station location is based on responder availability. Recruiting and retaining firefighters assigned to a station located in an industrial area will be challenging. Volunteer departments often respond with multiple apparatus from one station, so the need to have sufficient personnel residing or working in proximity to the station is important.

Alternatively, career fire departments often respond with one or two apparatus from each station and dispatch multiple stations to significant alarms. This can help meet both the response-time and staffing benchmarks.

• Historical fire and medical activity. Using historical response data such as event history, activity levels and risk characteristics (fire potential, occupant exposure), it may make sense to locate fire stations near high-population areas that experience high call volumes. If the service area has a significant commercial or industrial area, it may also be essential to ensure appropriate resources are located to ensure those community assets are protected.

• Shared services with neighboring departments. Consideration should be given to the availability of mutual aid partners, particularly those that border your jurisdiction. The reciprocal use of automatic mutual aid to provide services may reduce the need for fire stations. This is particularly applicable when a neighboring department is geographically close and can provide quick service. Collaborate on sharing services.

• Using technology. The use of technology can help in the justification of station locations by offering quantifiable data to support location decisions. Modern geographic information system (GIS) computer software can provide accurate data about demand and response times. The old concentric circles on a map technique offers limited value when compared to the data derived through the application of GIS technology. Inputs such as travel time, travel speed, roadway variances, time of day and day of week analysis can be projected by GIS technology onto mapping to visually compare response data.

Evidence-based response data

Station overlap as well as fire district demand zone for each fire station can be calculated and displayed. Layering of data can be added to demonstrate different response routes, coverage overlap, percent of area covered in anticipated response time and areas that fall outside the desired response time.

Municipal services are challenged to maintain a balanced budget, without new revenue streams, while having little or no impact on the services delivered. Fire departments focused on maintaining core services need to embrace data to drive decisions and focus on what they are striving to achieve. Focus on the desired outcome. Providing evidence-based response data can be valuable information in determining and justifying resource allocation. n

 

Richard Gasaway, Ph.D., will present “Fireground Safety: Common Mistakes & Best Practices” and “Leader’s Toolbox for Volunteers” (with Richard Kline) at Firehouse Expo 2012, July 17-21 in Baltimore, MD.