Jan. 20--Response times to emergency calls have improved at all four fire stations that have new rapid response vehicles -- essentially medically equipped SUVS sent to low-level medical calls, according to a Fire Bureau study.
Their use also has meant an estimated savings of $1,894 from July to October, the study said. That's because the SUVs get better mileage and their maintenance and repair costs are much lower than a full fire engine or ladder truck.
Fire Chief Erin Janssens is expected to present the study to the City Council at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
"The program has had some success in freeing up our four-person crews and apparatus so they can focus on the majority of the bureau's calls, which are critical fire & rescue dispatches," the study says. "Use of RRVs can save the bureau money, although it is minimal because lower-acuity calls are a small percentage of PF&R's responses."
The four vehicles each hold two-person crews and were added to stations that handle a high call volume: 7 (Mill Park), 11 (Lents), 19 (Mt. Tabor) and 1 (downtown).
Since the roll-out in July, the Fire Bureau has found that about 7 percent of dispatched calls fall into the low-level non-emergency category. That accounts for about 5,000 responses a year.
Dispatchers use GPS locations to send the nearest rapid response vehicle to a non-emergency call. The initial goal was for the vehicles to respond within 15 minutes. But the bureau has found that goal too lofty and has changed the goal to a 20-minute response.
The bureau found that 42 low-level calls per month were deferred to a fire engine truck because the rapid response vehicle didn't expect to reach an address within 15 minutes.
The bureau also has made sure that dispatchers don't send the rapid response vehicles to calls requiring firefighters to lift a heavy patient. The bureau has worked with dispatchers to ensure they know a patient's weight before deciding whether to send two firefighters to respond or a full four-person crew on an engine or fire truck.
The bureau also has recommended moving the rapid response vehicle now stationed in downtown Portland to North Portland's Station 24 at North Maryland Avenue and Going Street to reach North Portland addresses more quickly.
Alan Ferschweiler, president of the Portland Firefighters Association, said he hadn't read the full study yet, but agrees with many of the adjustments made to the program so far. He did note that downtown has a good share of low-level, non-emergency medical calls. And, he said he's unsure how callers seeking help might react to the bureau's new goal of responding to low-level calls in 20 minutes.
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