Response times for fire and medical emergencies are creeping higher in Lee’s Summit as the fire department goes on more calls.
The call load has increased 8 percent this year, compared to the first six months of 2016.
In 2016, the total response times were higher than department goals, and fire officials are working on ideas to improve them.
The department recently compiled its response times for last year and reported the results to the City Council at a work session July 20. In its accreditation report, Fire Chief Rick Poeschl also covered needs for improving and adding fire stations.
“Our bull’s-eye says what we need to work for is 10 minutes for EMS and 10 minutes 20 seconds for fire calls (for total response time),” Poeschl said.
Total response time includes all the necessary professionals and equipment needed to handle a call from dispatch getting the call through clean-up.
The department’s goal is to hit those marks 90 percent of the time, which meet the standards of the National Fire Protection Association and the Commission for Fire Accreditation International.
In 2016, for residential and commercial structure, the fire response time was 22 minutes and 38 seconds at the 90th percentile. For 2016 medical calls, the response time was five minutes too high, at 15 minutes and 23 seconds at the 90th percentile.
Those numbers, however, reflect the time it takes for all units to arrive. The department did much better on travel times between dispatch and arrival of the first pumper. When the first pumper arrives, firefighters will be laying fire hose or starting medical care. If they know someone is inside a burning building, they will begin rescue operations before the entire team arrives.
The department’s 90th percentile for the first unit’s travel time was 5 minutes, 6 seconds on a fire call and for medical calls travel time was 4 minutes, 56 seconds.
The department procedure is to dispatch all the fire companies and ambulances that might be needed for a particular incident, then often ease off when the first units arrive and determine what resources will be required.
In the case of a structure fire, what is needed could be 18 firefighters, three pumpers, a ladder truck and two ambulances.
Poeschl raised the issue of adding more firefighters to improve response times and firefighter safety. The city also could use a third ladder truck, he said, to meet the standards of the Insurance Services Office, an industry group that helps insurance companies determine rates for an area.
“Accreditation is for continual improvement,” Poeschl said. “We think we’re pretty good, but there’s always room for improvement.”
The edges of the city — particularly in the north, west and south — and in Greenwood, which the city serves by contract, are particularly vulnerable to travel times for the first unit to take longer than 4 minutes.
The distances between neighborhoods in the city and fire stations makes coverage a challenge, Poeschl said.
“Going from Lakewood to Raintree Lake on a sunny day with no traffic is still tough,” Poeschl said.
As responders leave their districts to cover help another Lee’s Summit station station with a call, if a second call comes in, those units may be traveling extra distance.
On a busy day, it creates a shuffle of fire apparatus traveling to calls, off-duty firefighters called back to service and sometimes calls to neighboring cities for mutual aid.
Poeschl said the department is working on shortening those response times.
It is adding an automatic vehicle location system to its trucks, so dispatchers can more efficiently choose which companies or ambulances to send on a call.
It is considering adding quick-response vehicles, which would be operated by two firefighters with medical training, positioned in additional locations.
It could add a fourth firefighter to each fire company, which would more quickly reach the critical number of personnel necessary.
In the next five to 10 years, Poeschl said, the department will need additional fire stations and personnel.
Council members asked a variety of questions, such as whether current stations could house a fourth firefighter and how improvements will be paid for.
Councilwoman Diane Seif said the city needs to be aware of the challenge as it approves housing such as West Ridge at the Lake, a proposed apartment complex on the north side of the city where response times were substandard.
“We have to look at all these apartments and where will we put them,” Seif said.
Councilwoman Diane Forte agreed additional support is needed, but wanted to know where the city could get the money.
While some federal grants are available to allow the city to hire more firefighters, they would cover only part of the cost and last only three years.
Councilman Rob Binney pointed out that the city has been making progress in emergency services.
A sixth ambulance is to come on line Aug. 1 to be located at Fire Station No. 6. Poeschl said that will help improve response times.
The city also has raised wages for paramedics to get more applicants and the fire department will get wage adjustments along with other employees to make up disparity with comparable communities this fall.
The city is in the process of upgrading to its communications systems to join the regional Metropolitan Area Regional Radio Network.
Poeschl stressed that the city still provides excellent service and is never without units to respond to an emergency, thanks to the ability to call on off-duty employees and mutual-aid agreements with other cities.
“We’re still a top-notch department with top-notch personnel,” Poeschl said.
Lee’s Summit Fire Department emergency incidents
A gradual growth in the city’s population is resulting on slower-than-desired response times. The Lee’s Summit Fire Department has adopted new standards and measuring standards along with accreditation, and officials are trying to find solutions to meet the demand.