PEORIA, Ill. (WEEK) – The City of Peoria has commissioned an an independent study, specifically looking at the fire department to see how it could maximize resources without compromising public safety; however, local firefighters say the study did present some cause for concern.
The study commissioned by management consulting firm, Fitch & Associates, found “too much” overlap in emergency calls where both fire and paramedics respond, that is, when both are not necessarily needed.
Firefighters have said they have no disagreement with that notion, but that they do disagree with the study suggesting that they could provide similar services with less resources.
An example of this would be an emergency event where both Peoria Fire and AMT both show up to the call. but the question remains if they both need too?
“From a risk management perspective, it doesn’t make sense to send somebody, or multiple units – lights and sirens – screaming across the city, for somebody that simply fell and twisted their ankle or hurt their knee,”
said Bruce Mueller, Analyst for Fitch & Associates
Across the country medical calls make up the majority of emergencies, in Peoria, less than one percent of calls are considered non-emergencies; 1.4 percent involve rescue; 10.8 percent involve fires; however, an overwhelming 87 percent are medical calls.
The study reveals only the most severe ones need both agencies, instead suggesting the Peoria Fire Dept. could sit out roughly 2400 low priority calls each year.
“They are available, more of the time to respond to the critical calls,” said Mueller.
The study also shows reworking the emergency call center would help “save” resources and money and cut down on dispatch times.
Firefighters are open to these changes, but they have concerns about the part of the study that suggests they could continue to operate with less resources.
“It’s almost like the fire side was glossed over. Our fire numbers haven’t changed. We still average about 300 structure fires a year,” said Ryan Brady, President of the Firefighters Union Local 50.
The study shows the Peoria fire dept. needs all 12 of their fire stations to maintain their average response time of 5 minutes; however, the fire suggests they could cut those that number in half and only add one minute to the average response times.
“We know we’re getting there at five minutes now. let’s take the foot off the gas pedal just a little bit and get there in 6 minutes instead,” said Mueller. “You can get essentially that same level of performance from only six locations.”
Peoria firefighters take issue with that notion because they believe the information is based on a computer generated model that fails to account for issues like potholes, construction, and school zones that could interfere with response times.
“When you have to go farther and farther away. your time becomes longer and longer,” said Brady. “This idea of us getting to six minutes out there doesn’t happen the majority of the time. when you’re trying to get 15 people to the scene of a house fire – you’re looking at 11 or 12 minutes. These are realistic numbers.”
Brady specifically refers to northwest Peoria, which is the 5th and largest district in the city, and based on the study’s data could have longer response times than any other area.
Denis Cyr, 5th District Councilman, said 45-50% of all the income or revenues that come to city hall, comes through the 5th district.
“What i’m looking for, for my constituents, is a good return on our investment,” said Cyr.
Brady said the mere mention of less resources puts a price tag on saving lives and some council members agree
“Police and fire rescue are core basic services. it involves life and death decision making. The budgets we pass may very well impact whether someone lives or dies,” Chuck Grayeb, 2nd District Councilman.
One of the biggest issues that is alarming for firefighters is what they say is not in the study. the firm said they do not advocate cutting staff or equipment, but firefighters worry that could change.
Firefighters warn if that does happen, they might not be able to get to you soon enough in an emergency.
“I’m hoping this isn’t the calm before the storm,” Brady said.
The Peoria city council did press the firm for more specific answers and while some were not exactly satisfied with the progress; they did say they were hopeful that the conclusion would come with concrete examples of how to best use the city’s public safety resources.
“1) raising taxes to pay for public safety services or 2) when we cut public safety services, either the response time may be a little slower or we have fewer resources to be able to put toward an issue,” said Patrick Urich, Peoria City Manager.
The firm said they need about three more months to continue looking at the 911 call center, which data shows is a minute behind the national average when it comes to emergency response times.
They believe tightening dispatch operations will have a positive ripple effect.