By Jeff Harrison
Citizens provided feedback on the current and future state of the Midwest City Fire Department last week during a town hall meeting. The event was designed to gauge the community’s outlook as part of a larger study on public safety in Midwest City.
According to survey results, the
majority of the participants say they are pleased with the current services and value a department that is highly-trained in fire suppression, EMS and technical rescue. Many raised concerns about the increasing number of medical calls and the city’s ability to meet future demands.
The city hired a consulting firm to evaluate current services provided by the fire department and develop a road map for the future. Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), of Argyle, Texas, is leading the study. A similar is study, conducted by a different company, is planned for the police department.
Representatives with ESCI started the study last month. They recently met with city officials and fire department staff, before hosting the town hall forum July 7 at City Hall.
Sheldon Gilbert, CEO of ESCI, provided an overview of the fire department study.
“We’re looking at how the department operates today and comparing it to national standards,” he said. “And we’ll make projections about what things will look like 10-15 years from now and based on that info, we’ll develop short, mid and long term goals and a path to meet them.”
Fire Chief Bert Norton followed with an overview of the fire department. Staffing includes 75 employees in fire suppression, four in fire prevention, three in administration and one public education specialist. Staff undergoes extensive training and public outreach.
The department has six stations with four engines, one ladder truck, one rescue squad, one hazmat union and one technical rescue unit.
An engine is staffed with a company officer, apparatus operator and two firefighters. The engine carries over 1,200 feet of hose and 500 gallons of water to attack fires. A ladder truck includes one company officer, an apparatus operator, two firefighters, and a 75-foot aerial ladder with specialized tools for forced entry, ventilation and rescue. The rescue squad, which is used at Station 1, does not have any firefighting capacities.
Norton said the department strives to arrive within 6 minutes on at least 90 percent of 911 calls. They want to have an effective response force, of 17 personnel, at working structure fires within 10 minutes of the 911 calls. The department responded to 6,943 calls in 2015, including 5,521 medical calls and 43 structure fires.
Some people asked why the fire department is shouldering the burden of the medical calls. Norton said as first-responders they have a duty to answer to every call, and administer life-saving medical care such as CPR.
“The idea was that you can get a fire truck there quicker than an ambulance and start CPR and begin those life-saving measures,” he said.
Gilbert emphasized that delivering emergency medical care within the 6-8 minutes greatly reduces the chance of permanent brain injury and/or death. That same window can also mean the difference between fire spreading from one room to an entire structure.
Following Norton’s presentation, citizens were asked to share their views on the fire department through a survey. The survey included questions about the fire department services, as well as priorities and perceptions of the department. The results were announced at the end of the town hall meeting.
The first question asked participants to rank the service priorities. Fire suppression, EMS and technical rescue (vehicle extraction, water rescue, etc.) received the highest scores. When asked which planning priorities were most important, most people selected to “ensure technical competence of responders,” “improve response time of the first unit to arrive,” and “ensure facilities/equipment are reliable and functional.” The third question asked about staffing, response performance and cost of service. The majority of people said they believed the department was understaffed, had an appropriate response and they would like to adopt new fiscal tools to fund the fire department.
The public was also asked to identify their expectations and concerns regarding the fire department, as well as perceived strengths of the department.
Many of the expectations touched on issues of training, public education, low response times throughout the city, maintaining in an ISO 1 rating, allocating resources according to data. The concerns included transparency within the department, escalating costs, competitive salaries and others.
Under strengths, people labeled the fire department personnel as highly skilled, compassionate and community oriented.
About 60 people attended the public forum at City Hall. The city is planning a follow up public meeting as the fire department study progresses. The study is expected to be finished in September or October.