Eastside Fire & Rescue response times improve

June 26, 2012

By Caleb Heeringa

Eastside Fire & Rescue firefighters aren’t always getting out the front door as quickly as they would like, though it hasn’t affected their ability to be on the scene of a fire or medical emergency promptly.

At its June 14 meeting, the agency’s board of directors got a look at an annual report on how often EFR units meet their self-enforced standards for response time. The agency strives to have firefighters at the scene of a fire in an urban area within 10 minutes and a medical technician attending to nonlife-threatening medical issues within nine minutes.

Paramedics are expected at the scene of potentially life-threatening incidents within 19 minutes — a longer standard since the lone paramedic unit at the Issaquah Highlands fire station covers all of Sammamish, Issaquah and the surrounding areas. The standards for all responses are several minutes longer in the rural parts of EFR’s coverage area.

What to know

Eastside Fire & Rescue units have been responding more quickly in recent years, though they’re not quite where they’d like to be. Below is the percentage of time that EFR crews are meeting their own standards for the time it takes to get a crew en route to an emergency.

Daytime response to medical  calls within 90 seconds

  • 2009: 77.7 percent
  • 2010: 85.7 percent
  • 2011: 88 percent

Nighttime response to medical calls within 120 seconds

  • 2009: 66.8 percent
  • 2010: 80.4 percent
  • 2011: 80.4 percent

Daytime response to fire calls within 135 seconds

  • 2009: 92 percent
  • 2010: 95.6 percent
  • 2011: 96.6 percent

Nighttime response to fire calls within 165 seconds

  • 2009: 90.4 percent
  • 2010: 94.9 percent
  • 2011: 94 percent

Source: Eastside Fire & Rescue

According to state law, the agency must meet its own standards 90 percent of the time. If an agency fails to meet that 90 percent standard, it must develop specific goals for improving.

The results showed that EFR improved in nearly every type of response in 2011. It met its standard 91.8 percent of the time in minor fire calls — a fire alarm, for example. That is up from 89.8 percent in 2009.

For more major calls in which a structure is in flames, the agency met its response goals 100 percent of the time.

For nonlife-threatening medical calls, the agency met its standard 92 percent of the time — on par with 2009, but up a bit from its 90.9 mark in 2010.

The only significant area that didn’t improve in 2011 was the agency’s paramedic response, for life-threatening medical incidents. EFR units met their standard 92.2 percent of the time, down from 96.2 percent in 2009 and 97.3 percent of the time in 2010. Last year’s mark still meets the 90 percent goal required by state law.

EFR Chief Lee Soptich said the agency is also working to improve its “turnout time” — the time it takes for a crew to be in its vehicle and out the door after receiving a call. Though EFR stations are exceeding the 90-percent standard for fire calls (135 seconds during the day and 165 seconds at night), they remain under the standard on medical calls despite steady improvement over the past several years.

EFR units try to be out the door to medical calls within 90 seconds during the day and 120 seconds at night. They’ve done that 86.6 percent of the time and 80.4 percent of the time, respectively.

Soptich said there’s been some concern in the agency that the 90-second goal is a bit optimistic, but the agency continues to pressure firefighters to get out of the station as quickly as possible.

Soptich said the agency encourages a bit of competition between units by requiring them to report to superiors if the 90-second standard is not met and ensuring that everyone knows if a unit is not meeting the standard.

“Some have argued that perhaps that EMS standard is not attainable. I don’t have that opinion,” he said.

The pressure may be working, as daytime EMS turnout has improved from 77.7 percent in 2009 to 86.6 percent last year. And Deputy Chief Greg Tryon told the board that 100 percent of units had met the standard for the months of April and May.

Caleb Heeringa: 392-6434, ext. 247, or cheeringa@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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