Response times drop after fire, EMS merger
In the four months since the City of Fredericksburg consolidated its fire and EMS departments, response times have improved by more than a minute on average.
“If I took an average over 2014, it was five minutes and 19 seconds and it was four seconds quicker in 2015,” said Fredericksburg Fire Chief Lynn Bizzell. “In 2016, the December average was three minutes and 52 seconds, so it has helped quite a bit.”
Consolidation between the departments has allowed for more people to be available, on both sides of the emergency table, thanks to cross-training between the professions.
“It’s gone really well and has increased the teamwork,” Bizzell said. “We’ve been able to cross-train some of the paramedics as firefighters and some of our firefighters as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Essentially, what we’re able to do is to be able to place firemen on the ambulance, swap those crews or put them on the fire truck – whatever need there is.”
No serious hurdles have occurred with the change, Bizzell said, except for simple logistical issues, such as ensuring there are two ambulances at the central station (Main Street) and two at the south station (Friendship Lane).
“With that comes operation changes, day-to-day activities such as moving equipment and personnel around,” Bizzell said. “And a lot of that just takes time getting used to. We had four personnel at the EMS station; now, we have four at the fire station. Some of those challenges take time to make it work smoothly.”
By expanding the knowledge-base of the emergency services personnel, Bizzell said they can be more versatile and respond to more calls.
“That helps staffing-wise because we’re able to move them from the fire truck to the ambulance or ambulance to fire truck,” Bizzell said. “It also helps out overall budget-wise because we don’t have two separate departments that are operating independently. It adds value to the budget. Personnel cost is the most expense cost associated with our annual budget. By having cross-trained personnel in one department we add value by providing two disciplines (fire and medical) to respond to calls.”
Since the Fredericksburg Fire Department is regulated by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, an individual working full time must be a certified firefighter to get on a firetruck.
“We’re sending them to school to make sure we’re not violating any state rules and to make sure they have the training they need should we get a big fire,” Bizzell said. “Also, those who are certified have their bunker gear on the ambulance.”
An arsenal of service
In total, the fire department has three fire engines, a ladder truck, two tenders, four brush trucks and some utility vehicles.
At times, fire trucks are called out to medical calls, depending on the situation.
“If you get a cardiac arrest, you’ve got to have more than just two people and we only have two people on the ambulance,” Bizzell said. “We prioritize it to say ‘we need more people on the scene when these major critical situations happen.’ In the past we would send two ambulances to that situation, and what that does is take two ambulances out of service, and we may get a call while we’re there. Taking a fire truck with an ambulance leaves the other ambulance in-service for any additional call.”
Between the two stations, there are four ambulances, two of which are staffed 24/7. Since the consolidation, firefighters can help with what’s called a “third out.”
“If one ambulance is out, we have a transfer to San Antonio or Austin, and we only have one ambulance available and we get two calls, we get the on-duty firefighters, or part-time/volunteer EMTs to respond immediately on the ambulance as a ‘third out’,” Bizzell said. “In the past, we had to call people in locally to man that ‘third out’ call.”
Additionally, having EMT personnel available to help with fire calls helps tremendously.
“In the past, we had one person on the fire truck that had to wait for the volunteers to get to the station, and that is still our policy because we have to have a minimum of three people on the fire truck before we respond,” Bizzell said. “But now we’re able to utilize those on duty, as long as they have the training completed.”
Romney Kowert, firefighter, paramedic and shift captain, who’s been with the city since 1983, has noticed a huge increase of help on the EMS side.
“It helps with manpower and it helps get the truck out faster since our EMS people down at the station are commissioned also to help,” Kowert said. “Since we have medics with the fire department, we can jump on either truck.”
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