After 1st full year in new station, Stillwater fire chief says move improved response

The numbers are in. After the Stillwater Fire Department’s first full year in its new station, response time data shows that moving the department out of downtown was a good decision, says Fire Chief Stuart Glaser.

“I know there were discussions and concerns about response times when we moved from the eastern side here, but consistently [our response times] remain within four minutes within the city of Stillwater in this location,” Glaser said while presenting the department’s annual report for 2016 to the city council in April.

Average response times provided to The Gazette for 2013-2016 indicate little change in time it takes the first firefighters to arrive on scene after a call. But the time it takes to dispatch a second truck to calls in outlying communities has decreased.

Stillwater operates with a 24-hour duty crew that responds immediately when a 911 call comes in. The department also has paid-on-call “volunteer” firefighters who respond from home or work when paged. The paid-on-call firefighters are paged for more serious incidents, such as accidents with injuries, serious medical emergencies, fires and special rescues.

Within the city of Stillwater in 2016, it took an average of 3 minutes, 30 seconds from the time the fire department was dispatched until the time the duty crew arrived on scene. That’s comparable to the times over the past several years.

In outlying areas, the response was a little slower, as expected.

The average duty crew response in Grant took 6 minutes, 10 seconds last year. For calls to May Township, the average duty crew response time was 7 minutes, 55 seconds, and for Stillwater Township it was 6 minutes, 33 seconds.

Stillwater has a duty crew available 24 hours a day as a first response. For more serious calls, paid-on-call firefighters are also paged, but the must come to the station from home or work. The top table shows the average time it took in from the time dispatchers called firefighters until the time the duty crew arrived on scene. The bottom table shows the average rounded time from the page until a second truck left the station with paid-on-call firefighters. (Tables courtesy of Stillwater Fire Department)

The Stillwater Township response time was up slightly compared to the last several years, but Glaser doesn’t see that as cause for immediate concern. He said it’s important to remember these are only averages and that response times fluctuate naturally based on many factors, such as weather conditions, traffic and the actual location of the scene within the department’s 61-square-mile coverage area. He said it’s also important to remember that the duty crew doesn’t always respond from the station.

“Crews are out of the station most of the day conducting company safety inspections, training, or they may be responding from one call to the next directly from the scene,” he said.

“It’s hard to pinpoint [the cause of the increase] without looking at every single call,” he said. “I think that’s still a very reasonable response time to … a rural area.”

Where the department saw significant improvement, Glaser said, was the time it took to have a second truck en route — that is, from the time pagers started beeping to the point when a second truck left the station carrying paid-on-call firefighters.

In the past, it could be five to eight minutes from the time of a page to the time a second truck pulled out. In 2016, it only took four to five minutes on average, no matter where the incident occurred.

“What that tells me is moving our station has really benefited our paid-on-call staff for getting to the station and getting that second truck out the door sooner,” Glaser said. “A lot of our paid-on-call staff are actually closer to this station, so they can get here faster than they can get to downtown.”

Glaser believes the improvement in the time it took to have a second truck en route to Grant, May Township or Stillwater Township was significant. And he said the change didn’t negatively impact Stillwater.

“I think the data shows it’s working,” he said.

Asked about concerns that old buildings downtown might now be more vulnerable, he said the response time is still very good downtown.

“Looking at the city’s calls, three-and-a-half minutes [on average] within the city of Stillwater is a pretty quick response time,” he said. “I don’t have any concerns with what happened.”

Glaser also said that most of the buildings downtown have been retrofitted with sprinklers, and that the department will continue to work on fire prevention within the community.

Highlights from annual report

In April the department released its annual report for 2016. Read the entire report here.

Highlights include:

• Call volume remained steady at approximately 1,800 calls per year.

• About 1,500 calls, or 84 percent, were in the city of Stillwater. About 4 percent were in Grant, 5 percent in May Township, and 6 percent in Stillwater Township. Mutual aid calls were about 1 percent of the total call volume.

• Medical calls continued to make up the bulk of the calls for service, accounting for 1,354 calls in 2016.

• There were 45 fire calls in 2016, down from 82 in 2015.

• The fire department prevented an estimated $8.5 million in property damage in 2016; about $1.5 million in property was lost.

• Fire department staff provided CPR and AED training to more than 300 residents, business staff members and visitors.

• The department started using new Zoll suction CPR-AED devices, which Zoll says have been shown to increase survival in cardiac arrest patients by 49 percent compared to conventional CPR.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]