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The City Journals

Four-person crews mean UFA gets there slower but helps you faster

May 30, 2018 12:41PM ● By Mariden Williams

4-person crews can tackle emergencies much more quickly than 3-person crews. (Unified Fire Service Area)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

About six months ago, Riverton transitioned from housing three three-person firefighter teams to two four-person teams. This has had some interesting results on emergency response times. 

"We basically are seeing about 24 seconds of increased response time because of only having two units instead of three," said Unified Fire Authority Chief Dan Petersen. "But one of the core benefits we gain out of the four-person crews is a decreased amount of time to actually take action on-scene."  

Studies have shown that it takes about 5.1 minutes less to put out a house fire with a four-person crew than with a three-person crew. Additionally, a four-person firefighter crew can immediately enter a burning building, but, due to OSHA regulations, three-person crews must wait for a fourth firefighter to join them before taking action. So while with three-person crews, it may not take as long for firefighters to arrive on scene, with four-person crews can solve the problem much more quickly. 

"In a perfect world, we'd have three four-person crews in there, but that would be an extremely expensive change," said Talsan Schulzke, the UFA's strategic data manager. 

"We felt good about the data, even though we're only looking at a six-month window," said Petersen. "We've added a little bit of response time but shrunk the call-to-action time by about five minutes per crew."

As Petersen explained, response time—namely, the amount of time from when you dial 911 to when firefighters appear at your door—is actually less important than call-to-action time: the amount of time from when you dial 911 to when the fire is out and your problem is solved.

Increasing the number of four-person crews is not the only change the UFA is looking at making in the near future. 

"Something we're really excited about is this data port that we're going to have," said Schulzke. 

Accessible through the UFA website, the data port will allow city officials and residents alike to analyze response times, where different stations are what types of calls most frequent in which areas and more, all through an interactive GIS map. 

“We're putting that in place right now, and we're very close to having it online," Schulzke said.

"We've worked real hard on getting accurate data," said Petersen. "It's been kind of a challenge over the years, and we've been able to get a lot of that refined." 

Analyzing data and crunching the numbers is critical to making sure emergency services can get to the scene and fix your problem as quickly as possible.

"Our system is really built on this design where we place our companies where they need to be to get them as close as possible," said Schulzke. "We try to put them into those places and get the stations built in a good manner that allows us to get to the scene quickly."

Another upcoming change that should decrease response times is the addition of a “peak load” ambulance.

“We're running today with two ambulances in the city, and they serve that south-end area, and as we get more busy, we bring in ambulances from other parts,” Petersen said.

The peak load ambulance would float around from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on where it was needed most. So if, an area on the east side was receiving lots of calls, there'd be less likelihood of pulling a Riverton ambulance over to pick up the slack.

"That will allow us to move us into different areas based off of the demand for the day, without stripping other regions,” Petersen said.