EFR response times reflect all-volunteer firefighter force, rural environment

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Vast majority of calls in district are medical-related

By Sandy Barnes

Evergreen Fire/Rescue’s response times reflect the performance of an all-volunteer firefighter force in a largely rural environment, Fire Chief Mike Weege said after reviewing recent data.


Most structure fires in the Evergreen district are in its suburban and rural zones, according to data compiled for the past five years. Nearly 32 percent of structure fires were in the district’s suburban zone, and 36 percent occurred in its rural zone.

Suburban zones are defined as having 500 to 1,000 people per square mile. Rural zones have less than 500 people per square mile.

The data show that, in 2012, the fire department’s “total” response time to structure fires ranged from to 24.16 minutes in the suburban zone to 44.92 minutes in the district’s rural zone.

By comparison, the study of response times for structure fires in the district’s urban zones reflects total response times ranging from 21.40 minutes in 2008 to 12.58 minutes in 2010 and 27.86 minutes in 2012.

Urban zones have at least 1,000 people per square mile and are a relatively small portion of the Evergreen district.

The district also has sparsely populated remote areas, which are defined as more than 8 miles from a fire station. Evergreen firefighters have responded to a very small number of structure fires in remote areas in the past five years, equating to approximately 3 percent of all calls.

For example, in 2008, there were only two calls to a remote zone, with a total response time of 14.54 minutes, and in 2012 there was only one call, with a response time of 18.19 minutes.

A “total” response time is calculated by compiling three times: when the call is processed in dispatch; the time that firefighters and EMS personnel receive the call and begin responding; and the time it takes to arrive at an incident.

For example, in 2012 the process time for a call on a structure fire in the urban zone was 1.56 minutes. The turnout time was 14.91 minutes, and the travel time was 11.39 minutes, bringing the total response time to 27.86 minutes.

Total EMS response times for the district in 2012 ranged from 13.67 minutes in urban zones to 14.18 minutes in rural zones and 10.23 minutes in suburban zones (see accompanying charts).

The vast majority of calls that EFR receives are for medical services, Weege noted.

“Only 1 to 5 percent of calls are fire-related,” he said.

In creating the report for response times, non-emergency responses were removed, Weege said.

“We identified calls that aren’t true emergencies,” he said.

The five-year study does not include response times for wildland fires or vehicle fires, Weege noted. EFR response times in the report also reflect responses by firefighters and EMS first responders in personally owned vehicles.

Many of the roads in the district, which includes portions of Clear Creek County, are narrow, winding and in difficult areas to access, Weege remarked.

Because fire districts calculate response times differently, performance comparisons are difficult, but some calculations indicate that the Evergreen district is meeting National Fire Protection Association standards about 70 percent of the time.  

Elk Creek Fire/Rescue in Conifer also serves a largely rural area, according to the chief’s annual report for 2012.

The report states that the average response time to all calls within the fire district was 12 minutes, 25 seconds last year. Average response time to structure fires was 18 minutes, and to EMS calls was 10 minutes, 49 seconds in 2012.

Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin said that response times in his district are calculated from the time the tone is sent out to the time EMS personnel and firefighters arrive on the scene.

Low incidence of structure fires

Pete Anderson, a former West Metro Fire Department employee who developed response time information for that agency, volunteered to produce the response-times report for Evergreen Fire/Rescue.

Because of the relatively low number of structure fires in the Evergreen district during the past five years, Anderson said he does not think the data present an accurate picture of response times for fire-related calls.

“The problem with the data is that it is very limited. … It skews the real performance,” said Anderson.

In 2012, Evergreen firefighters responded to four calls for structure fires in the urban zone, seven in the suburban zone, 13 in rural, and one in the remote zone. In the past five years, the total number of structure fires in the district ranged from 103 in 2009 to 29 in 2012.

The number of EMS calls in the district in the past five years ranged from 1,378 in 2011 to 1,235 in 2012.

Using guidelines

The Evergreen Fire Protection District uses National Fire Protection Association standards as a guideline for performance, Weege said. The NFPA equation, which calls for an apparatus in-service time of 8 minutes from the time of an alarm on all incidents, is for fire departments with career firefighters who are at the station, he said.

EFR does have a staff of four paid employees for its EMS service who respond to calls from Fire Stations 2 and 4. Because of multiple calls that often come in close sequence, EMS calls are typically answered with a paramedic and a volunteer firefighter. EFR has four ambulances that respond to calls.

NFPA standards for response times are also based on a 35-mph speed for emergency vehicles, Weege said. In the Evergreen district, they travel at an average speed of 25 mph.

NFPA’s most recent version of standards, which was published in 2009, measure only turnout and travel times, Anderson added.

“Evergreen Fire/Rescue never officially adopted NFPA standards. They’re not apples-to-apples,” said Weege. “You use the pieces that apply.”

“Our response model is a neighborhood model,” he said. “I believe our system works very well.”

Anderson said that system-wide EFR is meeting NFPA standards for response times approximately 70 percent of the time. Benchmark response times for the district are 9 minutes for urban zones, 10 for suburban, 14 for rural and 17 minutes for remote and out-of-district calls.

While formulating data for the fire district, Anderson said, he is also helping to develop a standard of cover for the total system, along with a risk assessment of the potential for structure fires.

To improve response times to fire-related incidents, EFPD implemented a master plan in 2001 that called for the construction of five additional fire stations and the purchase of additional fire trucks for them, Weege said. The location of these stations, including the one in Brook Forest, allows firefighters who live in these areas to respond more quickly than when there were only three core stations.

While developing a new 10-year master plan, Weege said, the 2001 plan will be reviewed to find places where improvements can be made, including response times.

“Evergreen Fire/Rescue takes response times very seriously,” Weege said.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.