Wednesday, October 22, 2014

More than four

Last week, the committee assembled by the Mayor to make recommendations on replacement of the City's radio system and optimization of fire stations held it's first meeting. I'm chairing the committee. Last week the committee considered the need for updating the radio system, 80% of the use of which is by public safety personnel. This week, our attention will shift to fire stations.

At the same time the committee is working, the City is also conducting what has become an annual process for engaging citizens in the discussion of the City's budget priorities. This year, the online survey portion of that process is also asking about these two public safety projects. I've been reviewing the results as they are compiled, and also looking at the comments. It's apparent to me that many people are still a little fuzzy about why we think it's important to have a fire station within four minutes travel time to as many addresses in the community as possible.

Four minutes is a national standard for urban fire and rescue services, adopted by the National Fire Protection Association and widely used as the benchmark U.S. cities.  The standard is worded as a percentile: travel time to life-threatening emergencies of four minutes or less, 90% of the time. In Lincoln, we are at 80% so far this year, and we've been getting a little worse as the years pass--primarily due to geographic growth.

It's important, because the amount of time from the onset of an emergency to the arrival by Lincoln Fire & Rescue equipment and personnel makes a big difference in the outcome. A few minutes delay in the event of a stroke, fire, traumatic injury, cardiac or respiratory arrest can literally be the difference between life and death. Right now, only about 89% of the addresses in Lincoln are within four minutes of a fire station. We'd like to get that up above 95%.

On the map below, you can easily see the areas most at risk for delayed response due to excessive travel time. Green is good, red is bad. The white outline represents the projected future service area of Lincoln in 2040. As you can see, the growth areas in the north, south, and east are going to be increasingly orange and red if we don't do something.


Anonymous said...

Maybe a better solution to response times would be improving the highways around and through the city. Of course this would require a lot of cooperation across several jurisdictions but the costs could also be proportioned among those jurisdictions.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Can we trust the NFPA? Are they funded like the IAFF or AFL-CIO? I did a quick google search for how the NFPA is funded and did not find anything. I took the city survey and still have trust issues with Firefighter recommended practices when I am the one footing the bill. I understand the want for quick medical responses but fires are not that common any more. (Think modern buildings with sprinklers, less smoking, smoke detectors, etc.)

Tom Casady said...


I completely understand your skepticism, but in this case the NFPA can be trusted and independently verified. Read the first paragraph of this, or just Google "brain hypoxia" or "fire propogation."

While as you point out,fires are comparatively rare, they still constitute life-threatening emergencies for which the community must be prepared. By far the greater risk arising in Lincoln from slower response times, however, occurs in medical emergencies.

And keep in mind that travel time is only part of the total response time. Precious time is consumed in gathering information from the 911 caller, dispatching the resources, and in getting the first responders geared up and underway.

Anonymous said...

2:43 will wish they are 4> minutes away when he needs them.

Gun Nut, you've been coming up with some whoppers lately, but this one really cracked me up.

Anonymous said...

Funny how a couple million folks who live out in the country don't need 4 minute response times. What is response time protocol in rural areas? Why doesn't the NFPA recommend times here? Because union firefighters control NFPA and they are all sucking off urban tax payers. Visit the IAFF website for your fill of union propaganda.

Tom Casady said...


Quite true. Millions of Americans have no chance whatsoever of seeing a paramedic within the critical time in the event of something like a myocardial infarction or a stroke. And if their barn catches on fire, it will more than likely just burn down. When you live in a city, though, you are generally expect to be close to such things as emergency services, grocery stores, and take out pizza.

If we're willing to tell a significant percentage of citizens that we do not intend to try to provide 4 minute travel time citywide, we can certainly save some money. I think that's up to our elected officials and the community to decide.

NFPA, by the way, is not affiliated with IAAF, and they do indeed publish lower standards for suburban and rural response time benchmarks.

As I told an earlier commenter, though, you need not accept NFPA's recommendation: you can turn to the medical experts for information about why four minutes is important.

Anonymous said...

Could you explain what some of these whoppers I have been coming up with lately are? I am sure my life experiences are probably vastly different than most of the readers of this Blog. Let me explain my thinking on the comment on this ("more than four") blog.

I can see at least two ways of improving response times in Lincoln. More Fire Stations is one way of doing it. However traffic congestion is the 900# Gorilla. If our highway system in and around Lincoln is improved a result will probably be quicker response times because of better traffic flow. The big question is: which solution offers the biggest benefit at the lowest cost? As far as improved highways not only would emergency responders benefit but all users of the Lincoln highways would also. Maybe improved highways would be a more cost effective solution.
Gun Nut