Audit Shows S.L. Firefighter Response Time Lagging

Audit Shows S.L. Firefighter Response Time Lagging

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John Daley ReportingFirefighter response time in extreme cases can mean the difference between life and death. An audit for the city council found it's taking too long for fire crews to get alerted, and too long to get to the scene.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, if you call 9-1-1 it should take about a minute for dispatchers to alert fire crews and another minute for crews to turnout, to get the call, and then leave the station. But a new report finds Salt Lake lagging on both fronts.

Sandy, May of last year, a house fire takes the life of a prominent doctor. In the aftermath questions abound: why did some neighbors complain about having difficult getting through to 9-1-1? And what delayed fire fighters from getting there sooner?

Cases like that loom large for dispatchers, always balancing the need to alert crews quickly with the need to extract the correct information from callers.

A new audit finds while in many categories Salt Lake City's fire department does well, response time lags behind national averages.

Average time to process a call to fire dispatch is 2 minutes 42 seconds. Average turnout time for crews to get a call then leave the station is 1 minute 42 seconds. The national standard for both is a minute.

David Herrmann, Communications Director, Salt Lake City Fire: "It's feast or famine in the dispatch center. In other words, there are periods where we have very few emergencies occurring in Salt Lake City; other times there are multiple emergencies occurring all at once."

Carlton Christensen, City Council Member: "I think clearly there are some weak areas in our dispatch area. The mayor had a couple of requests for additional dispatchers. This certainly reinforces that."

Salt Lake Fire officials say they're getting roughly four times as many calls as they got 15 years ago, many coming from a new source--cell phones.

Scott Freitag, Spokesman, Salt Lake City Fire: "Every call that comes in we need to answer and our dispatchers don't know the second, third and fourth callers are calling about the same incident until they actually answer the phone."

The department is asking for two new dispatchers to address the problem. One council member suggests also coping with a growing language gap could help.

Dave Buhler, City Council Member: "We do not have any bilingual dispatchers in the fire department and that can slow down things as well."

The fire department says two new dispatchers would cost about 60-thousand dollars, but the city is facing a tough budget year and there are plenty of competing needs for those funds.

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