Globe Story Sparks Concern About Response Time

Updated: 03-11-2005 11:44:53 AM

Firehouse.Com News

The Boston Globe's January report on fire department response times has prompted a flurry of inquiries to the USFA about the need for a national study. However, USFA spokesman Tom Olshanski said the idea is not a high priority because data from across the country is too varied to compare and needs to be examined at the local level.

The Globe's report concluded that response times have been increasing as fire departments have received smaller shares of municipal budgets. It also noted that the USFA has been collecting data on response times since 1986, but has not analyzed it.

Olshanski told that the USFA has been concerned about response time since long before the Boston Globe story, and first proposed a study in 2002. The project is "in the que," he said, but has not been started yet because of higher priorities.

The dilemma, he said, is that fire departments measure response times differently. Some start from the time of dispatch, and others from the minute the call is received. Arrivals can be the moment a unit arrives at the hydrant, at the building, or when a battalion chief arrives on scene.

Olshanski said that in looking at response times, it is also important to consider variables such as time of day, traffic, and whether trucks are coming directly from the station or from another call.

"This is the part we continue to wrestle with," Olshanski said. "Given all of those different factors in response time, what is the common denominator through all of this? That's why this study has not been a very high priority. It's a statistic that's not uniform across the country."

Olshanski said the only reason for the USFA to analyze the data is to see if there are some commonalities in the way departments are being called and responding to calls, that could assist discussions at the local level.

"Response time is a local issue, without a doubt," he said. "Theoretically you could improve response time if you put a fire station on every street corner. Clearly, nobody's going to do that, so it's a local decision... Communities have their own expectations balanced against budget dollars for roads, parks, buildings, and so on."

Olshanski said the USFA has prioritized other topics for study, such as the number of children losing their lives in cities and why, the impact of working and non-working smoke alarms, the impact of sprinklers, arson fires, other causes of fires, emergency vehicle operations, firefighter deaths and injuries, civilian deaths and injuries, and fire damage.

When it comes to data for response time, "It's not a statistic that for us, goes directly into saving children, adults and reducing deaths and injuries to firefighters, and injuries and deaths to residents of this nation," Olshanski said.

"It would be nice if everybody got there faster, but the reality of it is that every fire chief working in every city across the United States and his or her staff are constantly looking at response time and how it affects them locally."