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Better public-private EMS coordination leads to improved response times in San Francisco

The report also attributes the improvement to more staff in the fire department

By Emily Green
San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco ambulance response times are finally close to reaching their target goal of arriving on-scene within 10 minutes 90 percent of the time.

That’s the finding of an annual report released Thursday by the city controller’s office, which measures the performance of various city departments, including police, fire and public works.

The improving ambulance response times are a welcome signal that much-needed reforms by the Fire Department are having an impact. In August 2014, for example, it took an average of 14.6 minutes for ambulances to arrive at 90 percent of incidents.

The report attributes the improvement to more staff in the Fire Department and greater coordination with the private ambulance companies that jump in to transport patients when the city’s system is maxed out.

But San Francisco Firefighters Union President Tom O’Connor criticized the response time as still too slow, noting that national standards call for a faster response. The standard set by the National Fire Protection Association is to have advanced life support, usually a paramedic on an ambulance, arrive on-scene within eight minutes 90 percent of the time.

“We seem to be patting ourselves on the back for a D+,” O’Connor said. “We still need more firefighters, we still need more paramedics, and we still need more ambulances to provide the very best service possible.”

Cursory analysis
The controller’s report gives a cursory analysis of various agencies.

It finds that the ratio of police officers to residents is lower than in years past. From 2004 to 2015, the city’s population increased nearly 12 percent while the number of officers decreased 3 percent. And it reiterates a fact known to anybody who has spent significant time in the city: Property crime is way up.

The report gives Muni a positive review, reporting that gaps in service are down and that “service delivery” — the number of scheduled trains and buses put on the street — has averaged 99 percent since January. But the report is silent on Muni’s on-time performance. Muni spokesman Paul Rose said on-time performance in October was 61 percent, up from 53 percent at the same time last year.

“It’s always a question of what numbers they show,” said Tony Kelly, a Potrero Hill activist. “God bless the controller’s office for collecting these numbers, but are they the numbers that actually reflect performance?”

The Department of Public Works also gets high praise. Despite a 37 percent increase in street cleaning requests since 2013, the department has “consistently exceeded its goal of responding to 90 percent of requests within 48 hours.” Residents also offered more favorable ratings of the cleanliness of streets and sidewalks.

Natasha Mihal, performance program manager at the controller’s office, said the idea behind the report is to get departments to use data “to improve how they are doing their operations.”

The Board of Supervisors, on the other hand, has little room for improvement. The board reported it was meeting 100 percent of all of its goals, except for the percentage of “hearing notifications issued to parties within the required time-frame.” On that metric, it met 99.9 percent of its goal.

‘Very, very good’
“Nothing is ever 100 percent,’ said Ron Miguel, former president of the City Planning Commission. “They are self-initiated goals and they are achieving them. And that’s very, very good, no question about it. But if I was a department head I would be a fool to push my goals out so far that I never achieve them because then I would look bad.”

(c)2015 the San Francisco Chronicle

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