Ill. fire chief outlines improvements in response times

The change has resulted in dispatchers now calling for the closest fire truck to respond to an emergency medical call when no ambulance is available

By Maria Nagle
The Pantagraph

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.  — Changing how firefighters are dispatched has helped the Bloomington Fire Department come closer to the national standard, which calls for 6-minute response times in 90 percent of calls. 

"When we change those dispatching protocols they change valuable seconds," Fire Chief Brian Mohr told the Bloomington City Council at Monday's work session.

He explained the department's strategic plan to reduce emergency response times and shared the progress made so far this year, including easing demand on the headquarters fire station at 310 N. Lee St.

The change has resulted in dispatchers now calling for the closest fire truck to respond to an emergency medical call when no ambulance is available in one of the city's five active fire districts. He said that's faster than waiting for an ambulance to come from another district.

"We could initiate basic contact quicker that way," said Mohr. "That's how we've improved those response times."

Mohr said the change has enabled the department to reach the National Fire Protection Association's standard 73 percent to 75 percent of the time for emergency medical calls.

Mohr previously reported the department's response time was within 6 minutes 66.5 percent of the time last year.

"But truly I think it looks more like we were closer to the 70th percentile," he said Monday. "Our improvement in reporting comes from the fact that we have hired a data analyst."

He has said overuse of headquarters-based resources was one of the reasons for the department's slower response times for emergency medical calls last year.

When the crews and vehicles based at the headquarters station are busy, resources from other outlying stations are brought in to handle other calls, which adds an average of 1 minute and 57 seconds to response times, said Mohr.

To improve emergency medical response times, the council in December approved a $545,000 tax levy increase to fund a second ambulance crew at the headquarters station, which handled 46 percent of the department's calls for the entire community in 2016.

Mohr said he wants to use that money this fiscal year to hire three people as well as use overtime to staff the additional ambulance at the headquarters station during peak operational hours.

"Once I can prove that impact I would like to hire an additional three people next year so (the second ambulance) would basically be staffed 24 hours," he added.

The plan also proposes building a new fire station in fiscal 2021 on the city’s northeast side where response times for fire and emergency calls continue to be a concern. It also calls for meeting quarterly with Normal to improve cooperation and mutual aid response.

The city staff also reviewed a proposed five-year capital improvement plan (CIP) that identifies $300 million in capital needs for all city departments, including $80.6 million with secured funding and $222 million without.

City Manager David Hales said he would like the council to adopt a CIP plan by December so it is approved before the council begins addressing the city's operating budget for the next fiscal year.

Copyright 2017 The Pantagraph 

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