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‘Paramount concern’: Meridian fire chief talks decreasing response times & solutions

Right now, the average fire department response time in Meridian is six to ten minutes. Though for a while, the city and department have been working toward a five-minute response average.

During a recent meeting, the Meridian City Council and mayor simultaneously approved the construction of Fire Station 7 in NW Meridian and Fire Station 8 in South Meridian. The council also adopted a response time of five minutes for any emergency response in the community. Meridian Fire Department Chief Kris Blume says adding two stations is a good start, but that alone will not decrease the response time.

“It will help, but it won’t fix,” Blume said. “The reality is the City of Meridian has experienced such explosive growth over a very short period of time that public safety, as well as all of the other public services, are stretched to keep up with the growth. And as new developments go in that brings new people to the community, (which) brings more needs from city services as well as the fire and police departments.”

[Boise to build Northwest Boise fire station on Bogart Lane]

A dire need for a decrease

Blume said more than 80% of the calls the department receives are medical emergencies. According to the American Heart Association, brain death and irreversible damage can happen in just four to six minutes after an incident, making response times critical.

“If the Meridian Fire Department and their paramedics, and all of the bells and whistles that we’re able to bring to an emergency scene can’t get there, we’re not even given the opportunity to make a difference to make it to give that person a chance,” he said. “And so it’s incumbent upon the fire department in the community to work together to find an adaptive solution to a technical problem and get resources on scene to make, to affect a positive outcome.”

Reasons behind response times

Blume says the location of the emergency and its proximity to a fire department doesn’t solely determine the response time. Several factors determine how quickly crews can arrive.

“In my opinion as the fire chief, (it’s) our infrastructure and roads and call processing time,” Blume said. “If I’m able to reduce that call processing time by 30 seconds, it essentially would move a fire station a quarter-mile closer to that call. So we’re about compressing the time from injury or accident to an on-scene arrival of emergency services.”

Another factor is resources, such as how many people are available to respond and how much equipment they can distribute.

“Reliability of those units, and the personnel that we have, and as call volumes increase are our concentration distribution and reliability, all suffer,” he said. “They show lag times because just the concentration of calls the volumes are increasing year-over-year and so those become supremely problematic at the end attempting to meet or five minutes response time.”

[Meridian City Council appoints the city’s ninth fire chief]

Blume added that national and local standards put into place also affect how quickly firefighters can respond.

“It’s based on the ability to assemble an effective firefighting force, and an effective firefighting force follows and complies with an OSHA standard of two in, and two out,” he said. “So uniquely in Meridian and in Ada County, fire engines are staffed with three people. So as you can understand, even if one fire engine shows up at a house, by OSHA standard, they’re not allowed to enter that occupancy and begin searching for people that are in need of rescue. They have to wait for that second fire engine to show up in order to have two people inside the building with two people outside to rescue the firefighters should they become trapped, or need rescue themselves.” 

Community response

The Meridian Fire Department is working on its first five-year strategic plan in 11 years. The department recently held a citizens panel that allowed local people to ask questions and get answers from the team. One citizen asked about what the acceptable response time was. Blume said they were ‘not pleased’ with the department’s answer. 

“Their results were four minutes,” he said. “They thought four minutes was at the outside limits of what they thought was acceptable. They were not pleased to know that we’re struggling to meet five, and in many cases, half of the time we’re over, six, seven, eight, 10 minutes. So from a community’s perspective, we’ve heard loud and clear through our strategic planning process that our ability to respond to the community’s emergency in a timely manner is of paramount concern and consideration.”

Solutions

The Meridian Fire Department is also actively pursuing accreditation through the Center of Public Safety Excellence. They are now using new software programs called NFORS and Esri, which look at demographic density, population, road size, and time of day.

“It’s what’s called like a situational awareness toolkit, which shows the distribution of calls, the time it takes us to get there and then highlights hotspots,” he said. “And honestly, it’s kind of like a tic-tac-toe map of saying; ‘well what if I were to build a fire station and if I were to staff people, this is exactly where I would put,’ and so it gives you evidence base information on where and why you need more. A better distribution of resources.”


The department is also continuing to work closely with the city and the Ada County Highway District.

“We’re absolutely looking at adaptive solutions for technical problems, and again, I think that just the fire department and city government working together to try to find those adaptive solutions to technical problems,” he said. “It doesn’t make financial sense for the fire chief to go to the city council and say we need more, and more and more if there is a more efficient way to deliver the service with existing resources.”

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Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson is a BoiseDev reporter focused on Meridian and McCall. Contact her at autum@boisedev.com.

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