Oklahoma Fire Department Trying to Keep Up With Growth

May 12, 2013
The population of Broken Arrow has almost doubled in the last 20 years and while the ISO recommends 11 engine companies, but they currently have six.

May 12--BROKEN ARROW -- Broken Arrow's population has nearly doubled in the past 20 years.

In 2011, its population reached 100,000 people. The steady growth over the years had created a need for more services and a continual effort to keep up with the demand, officials say.

The challenge is perhaps no more evident than in a fire department that doubles as an emergency medical service for the entire city.

In 2004, when the population was 84,464, the Insurance Services Office told city officials they should ideally have five engine companies. But by 2012, ISO said they needed 11.

The city currently has six.

"That's a big increase for any community, and that was in eight years," said Acting Fire Chief James Annas.

Insurance companies use ISO's fire protection ratings to determine premium costs. Typically, the better the fire protection rating, the lower the premium.

ISO uses a scale of 1 to 10 with one being superior. Broken Arrow has a 2 rating, but some portions are a 9.

Annas said that nothing with the 9 rating is in the city limits and that it's typically within the city's fenceline and some areas in Wagoner County.

Besides population, ISO looks at road-mile density and how long it takes firefighters and paramedics to get to their destination.

"If you're beyond five miles of a fire station and not within 1,000 feet of a hydrant, you're a 9," he said. "I'm not aware of anywhere in city limits that is that."

The city replaced its Station 2 at 2900 S. Elm Place (161st East Ave.) in December with the opening of a facility at 5600 Aspen (145th East Ave.) that is four times its size.

The new station is nearly three miles southwest of the old station. Voters passed a bond issue to build the $3 million, 11,848-square-foot facility.

Plans were to renovate the former Station 2 into an ambulance hub, but funding didn't come through when the Vision2 proposal to extend the Vision 2025 countywide tax failed in November. Response times have slipped since closing the former Station 2, records show.

Annas said that the new Station 2 redistributed the response areas, which created longer distances to travel in some places.

"It's something we're monitoring, and hopefully we'll be able to address it and resolve it when we add a seventh station," he said. "We want to have a presence in that part of town."

The goal is to respond to fire and medical emergencies within four minutes.

"You have to accept that it's not always going to happen," Annas said. "The reality is, probably not a fire department out there could say they always got there in four minutes."

Annas said the city has been steadily increasing funding and manpower for the fire department. In the last two years, 23 new fire fighters have been hired. The fire department budget in 2003 was about $7.5 million, and this year it was $13.9 million, Annas said.

Annas said the department hopes to be able to add another nine firefighters in 2014 and six more in 2015.

Officials are currently evaluating needs for a seventh station and how it would be funded. The goal is to also have three district chiefs instead of just one, Annas said.

"We haven't decided the best approach to do that, but we know it's a reality coming," he said.

Susan Hylton 918-581-8381

[email protected]

Copyright 2013 - Tulsa World, Okla.

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