Why is public safety, police and fire so critical? As residents, we might be tempted to answer something like “because they protect us if something happens.” There are some general truths, such as – someone will always show up to help you when you call 9-1-1. It’s the system that 9-1-1 was founded on. Villages work together to provide resources for each other, which is called “Automatic Aid” or “Mutual Aid.” Yes, someone will always show up. But this fact doesn’t help you as a resident with an emergency. Because the variable here is time – someone will show up – eventually. That eventually might be very quick, and it might be very long. When they show up, there might be a lot of people to help you, there might not be enough to help you the way you need it. It’s those variables that we look at to determine the effectiveness of the Department’s Capabilities, and it’s the same variables that Insurance Companies (who you pay to insure your home) look at to determine your insurance rates.
For the purpose of this post, we’re going to examine the Fire Department. As Manager Rooney has pointed out, I have some knowledge with this area of local government, and I’m hoping that I can explain some of it to my fellow residents. Why is it so important for the residents to demand GREAT fire services? Because, the quality and quantity of your local fire department affects your lives and how much you pay. By nature, firefighters will do whatever they can to get the job done and help you, including things that unnecessarily put their life at risk when there aren’t enough people to do the job safely. That being said, Let’s examine a few scenarios and realize that the manpower needs of each represents what it takes to do the job safely and properly, not necessarily what we actually have here in our Village.:
A 2 car vehicle accident, each with 2 occupants. We know that there are many families in our town, with more than 2 people, but this is an easy scenario – and one in which you will see can be complicated by more injured people if the scenario were larger. For a moderate accident, say a T-bone type accident (one of the cars is hit on it’s side,) we have quite a few positions to fill to help them out. We’re going to say that the car that got t-boned can still open the other doors for now. This makes 4 patients. If each has minor injuries, we need 4 EMS personnel and at least 2 ambulances. We need at least 1 fire engine and one incident commander. If the Fire Engine has 2 people, we’ll need 2 fire engines with 2 people, or 4 people total to secure the vehicles and keep the occupants, bystanders, and other motorists safe. That’s a total of 9 people for a basic vehicle accident. For each patient with moderate to severe injuries, we’ll need an ambulance with 2 people each. So if all 4 are moderate to severe, that’s 4 ambulances with 2 people each. So we need 13 people. For each vehicle that needs to be cut apart to get people out – that’s a 4 person engine additional per vehicle. In carpentersville, we have 10 minimum people. You can see how quickly a bad accident overwhelms the resources. And this is one reason why you need more, not less.
Carpentersville has 2 engines and 2 ambulances manned 24 hours a day. It also has an Engine, Truck or Ambulance at station 1 manned 24 hours per day. If it’s an east side accident, we send 1 engine and 1 ambulance and 1 shift commander. FAR below the needed resources. If we need more, we call for them, which takes – you guessed it, time! That station is now empty. If we need another ambulance, station 1 comes with their ambulance, and now 2 stations are empty. If we need more, we call east dundee, reducing their station’s equipment and ability to respond to their own town. And so on and so forth. This is 1 call. What happens with the second call on the east side? How often does a second or third call come in? These are questions that you should be asking of your elected officials. Proper manning dictates the amount of time and number of personnel to get to you when you have an emergency.
Let’s examine medical emergencies. A few definitions here for you – BLS and ALS. Basic Life Support is a non life-threatening injury, and normally aren’t time sensitive. A few examples would be vomitting and sickness, minor cuts, strains and sprains and most small bones that are broken. Advanced Life Support are life-threatening emergencies and are almost always time sensitive. In Carpentersville, ALS calls represent about 50% of the total medical calls for service. there are some types of emergencies that are so dire that seconds make the difference. These include instances when a person stops breathing, when your heart stops for instance; or when an injury breaks a long bone; an embolism, which happen with women who smoke and take contraceptives more frequently but can occur for a variety of reasons; most serious medical issues with children; Asthma attacks and severe allergic reactions; drownings; serious car accidents; diabetic low blood sugars; strokes; I think you probably get the idea. These types of medical issues are so time dependent that each second brings with the significant decrease in chance of survival. What we’ve learned since the inception of “paramedics” in the 1970s was that time = life. And while the advanced care that paramedics offer does increase your chances of survival, more than anything, time is what we fight against when it comes to medical emergencies. Thus, the faster we get to you or your loved one, the better the chances. So what kind of time are we talking about? When it comes to breathing, brain death starts to occur at 4 minutes, thus, less than 4 minutes is one such benchmark. However, an injury like a femur fracture, or a tearing of part of the heart or the major arteries/veins, most often found in older people called an aneurysm, can cause a person to bleed internally and be without circulating blood in as little as 2-3 minutes, so there in lies another benchmark. This is why fire stations are supposed to be constructed within 1-1/2 driving miles of the area that it serves, and it’s why multiple fire stations in close proximity isn’t a bad thing. It should be noted that when there are more fire stations in an area than McDonalds, this represents an increase in the resident’s health AND access to healthcare! This close proximity to the served population helps to dramatically decrease these response times IF the stations are staffed appropriately. If they aren’t, the vehicles just sit there as you are calling for help, which is the current situation in the Village of Carpentersville. We can have the vehicles, but without the people, the response time to any serious medical emergency means that your chances of survival dramatically drop. Currently, our average response time in the Village to get to an ambulance call is 4:46, well above any benchmark we might want to set. Every ambulance we have in town should be staffed with 2 people. That means at least 6 on-duty firefighter/paramedics.
So what about Fires? What is the appropriate response? Here we turn to National Standards, Tactics and Strategies and some Scientific Data. Learning the sciences, the strategies and tactics behind structural firefighting is something that takes several years to learn, and a lifetime to become truly great at. So, we’ll try and shorten it up for you. For the sake of doing so, let’s take a “typical” fire that occurs here in the Village, we call it a “room and contents” fire. These fires start in a single room, and while they may progress to another room, they are usually limited and don’t result in the structure burning to the ground. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a total loss, just that it’s still mostly standing, and that some of your belongings can be saved. These fires also have the greatest chance of survival for occupants – depending on the fire department’s response and capabilities. So what does it take to put out one of these fires? An attack engine, a water supply engine, a backup engine, a truck with ladders, a RIT engine (Rapid Intervention Team – a team of firefighters that are there to keep the firefighters in a building safe and rescue them when things go wrong,) an ambulance FOR the firefighters and an incident commander. NFPA 1710, a national standard says each engine company is supposed to be staffed with 4 people, and be able to respond in less than 4 minutes 90% of the time. That means are supposed to get 23 people for full effectiveness. This standard also dictates that the complement of 23 firefighters should be in less than 8 minutes from the time of the call to fulfill.
Over the years, we’ve learned that rapid action without thought leads to firefighter deaths, and firefighter deaths on a scene mean any trapped occupants die too. So, staying safe means we have a better chance of rescuing trapped occupants. Having the right number of people on a scene to handle that “typical” room and contents fire gives us a much better chance to save your property as well.
Once again though, what does this mean to a resident really? Let’s ask some questions so that you start to formulate the importance of time. Put the following people in order of who is most likely to get out of a house during a fire: a man 16-50 years of age; a female 16-50 years of age; a child aged 5-15; a child less than age 5; an infant; an older person, male or female. Unless significantly advanced warning is given to all occupants, the chances of everyone making it out of the house is pretty low. This is because of the way homes are made, but more importantly, because of the way furnishings are made. Watch THIS video on you-tube. It’s about 5 minutes, but it’s 5 minutes that will really drive this point home. This is exactly WHY its so important to have smoke detectors that work in your home! But, more importantly, with the proper evacuation plans and drills, and with smoke detectors and with an alarm system, you still have less time than you think you do. For this, we turn to science to tell us what is really going on in a home. Please watch this YouTube Video before reading further. The reality is, acording to NIST (national institute of safety and technology) and Underwriter’s Laboratories: a 4 person crew can perform essential tasks 30% faster than a 2 person crew. If you are trapped in home, according to this scientific study, a 4 person crew can perform a search for you 6% faster than a 3 person crew, and 30% faster than a 2 person crew. Thus you can see, the more people – the better your chances of being found and rescued. More importantly though, the documentary presented a very real graph to help you understand all this:
So, what do we have here in the Village for you, the residents – where do you fall into this graph? If you are part of that “sensitive” population – children, infants, older men and women, you are in the grey area, and your chances of survival are pretty darn bad. If you are not, then you are probably ok unless it’s a 2 person crew arriving after that 5 minute mark. So let’s examine this. In Carpentersville on the east side of the river, there are 4 people (right now anyway, who knows what will happen when the 2 firefighters are laid off, probably go to 3.) That’s 2 for the ambulance and 2 for the engine, unless the ambulance is there, in which case it’s 4 for the engine. So, 73% of all calls are EMS, so the ambulance is out MOST of the time, meaning you get 2 firefighters. So your graph is on the bottom 2, early arrival means ONLY the healthy survive if if you are trapped. If they are late – say coming from another call, everyone has a poor chance for survival.
If you are in area 1 – by carpenter park, you are the purple areas. There are 3 people at this station. However, it also runs an almost equal number of ambulance calls each month, meaning the chances of someone being there to get on an engine drops dramatically. If 0 firefighters are at the station when your home catches fire and you are trapped, you aren’t on this graph – because your chances are that low to begin with. If they are there though, Healthy people – you have a good chance of rescue, and sensitive people have a chance at rescue with a fast response time!
For our West Siders, you guys are like the east siders, for now, again, with the lay-offs, that will change. However, based on the size of the area and the average response times, you are always in the “late” category. The East Siders get to be in the early category every now and then.
THIS is the current state of our Fire Department. These are numbers that are scientifically done, by an independent nationally recognized laboratory. Our politicians can’t refute them. They are FACT. The FACT is that our fire department’s chances of successful rescue are dismal at best. The reality is that our average response time is 5:20 – putting every “fire” into the LATE category. This is why it is so utterly important that you have early warning that awakens every one in the house. Parents – have a plan. Even young children can be taught how to escape. The science presented by NIST/UL was a basic room and contents fire. It didn’t examine a medium or heavy structural fire – something that is just as possible and because of the size – far more deadly in less time. As always TIME = LIFE. There is no other way of saying it.
What can you do? Contact your trustees. Tell them they need adequate fire services. So what are adequate services? To be in full compliance with national standards, it would mean 6 people in each station. And this is where we have to start to look at finances in conjunction with safety. The best case scenario based upon the scientific research for both EMS and FIRE would be 6 people in each station, 2 for the ambulance and 4 for the engines. The data supports this. However, we as residents either need to pay for this, or we need to accept a lower level of service. So where is the balance? Clearly, 2 people on an engine just isn’t going to cut it – the chances of survival are just far too low. 4 is best, but 3 is a compromise. Properly situated, 3 person crew can get to ANY victim in the “Early” chart up there with little toxic exposure. And while sensitive people will have toxic exposure in late arrivals, there chances of survival are slightly better than a 2 person early arrival. So at least 3 firefighters per engine is how many we should have. That makes 9 firefighters per day, and adding it to the 6 firefighter/paramedics, we get a total of 15 per day.
So what about the finances? Well, as we’ve pointed out, the Fire Protection District (Most of you West Siders are in this category, and Lake Marian) pays about 900k – 1 mil per year of the 5 million budget for the fire department. We also bill for ambulance transports, to an income of about 400,000.00 per year. So, the village pays about 3.6 million for it’s fire protection – significantly under most villages relative to their size. While some might argue that the budget can support more full time firefighters, I would argue that the budget can honestly only support 1 additional firefighter (which includes keeping the 2 they are talking about laying off.) So where are we going to get the additional 4 24 hour duty spots? This is where a properly trained part time force comes in. We can expand to 15 daily duty spots daily by hiring more part time firefighter/paramedics. We used to have 45 part time members, we have only 25 at present time. In the next part of this “series” of posts, we’ll examine where we can find the actual dollars to increase our staffing.
As residents of the Village, it’s up to you to demand the services that are necessary to protect your home. Or to accept less services and pay higher insurance rates and accept the increased risk that the Fire Department won’t show up IN TIME. It’s up to you to contact your trustees and tell them what you want and how to spend your money. Remind them that while they may know a lot about village budgets, it’s their job to provide you with the services that are necessary to protect your home and save the lives of your family from the destructive force of fire and very real medical problems. They serve at the pleasure of the electorate – and thats you!
Just in case you would like to research this further, NIST has the full report located here: NIST/UL Study on Effects of Manpower Reduction