Changes likely coming to the calls Peoria firefighters respond to

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Changes could soon be coming to the kind of calls Peoria firefighters respond to.

Peoria City Council is holding a special meeting next Tuesday to start the conversation on minimizing the number of calls the Fire Department responds to.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis says he hopes this makes the Fire Department’s responses more efficient to people’s needs.

Only five percent of the Peoria Fire Department’s response calls are to structure fires. Nearly 90% of its 27,000 annual calls are medical-related.

Mayor Ardis says the City is looking at making responses quicker and saving the department money.

“When we continue to look at where our fire stations are located, what are the most strategic locations for the best response time? What equipment needs to be in each one of those firehouses to make sure the City is adequately covered,” Mayor Ardis says.

“There will be a change, I don’t think it’s gonna happen right after Tuesday. Tuesday is just an opportunity for Fitch to give us a summary of all the evaluation they did on Emergency Dispatch and there’s going to be further discussion on how we potentially would modify the calls we go to,” Mayor Ardis said.

Tuesday, Missouri-based consulting firm Fitch & Associates, is presenting findings from a 5-year survey.

Mayor Ardis says the findings could mean the Fire Department won’t respond to as many non-fire calls moving forward.

“If there really isn’t a need that we respond to every one of those fender benders, flat tires, you name it. It’s gonna minimize the amount of people we have out,” Mayor Ardis said.

“A fire doubles in size every 60 seconds or less,” Mayor Ardis added when it comes to the quickness of getting to structure fires, every second matters.

In another effort to increase efficiency, Peoria Fire Chief Tony Ardis says there could be more jobs added to the City’s dispatch center.

“Dispatchers do an incredibly awesome job, but they are understaffed. I think between moving the ECC to the first floor of that building, And then adding some positions, it’s gonna really help how we all respond,” Chief Ardis said.

Chief Ardis says hopefully at two more jobs will be added at the dispatch center.

Ardis says the Fire Department’s response time averages around four and a half minutes.

Falls take up more than 10% of first responders’ calls. Tony Ardis says many of those shouldn’t require the Fire Department to be there.

“Calls that come in, where an individual has fallen, the dispatcher is talking to that individual and the individual is conscious, alert, oriented. Really not complaining of anything serious, but still wants to go to the hospital to get checked out, I don’t see any need for us to respond to that,” Chief Ardis said.

Mayor Ardis says in a critical budget year, City Council needs to be focused on utilizing taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way possible.

Tuesday’s meeting will just be the beginning of conversations on what calls the Fire Department needs to respond to.

The Fitch report was based on numbers from the Peoria Fire Department and Advanced Medical Transport in 2017.

It measures the amount of incidents, counts of vehicle responses, and time-on-task for these vehicle responses.

City officials were first spoken to by Fitch in October of 2018 because of budget issues.

Falls and breathing problems are the top two response calls for first responders, totaling nearly 20% of all calls.

Sick person calls are nearly 7%, traffic/transportation incidents are nearly 6%, and chest pain/chest discomfort calls are around 4% of the number of calls.

Unconcious/fainting is right above 4% of incidents, overdose/poisoning is 2.1%, and strokes are 1.5% of calls.

Most incidents occur between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

From the dispatch’s call to the Fire Department’s response, the average is six minutes and 17 seconds. That is for the first arriving unit.

Chief Ardis says his department, dispatch, and AMT are all going to work together to make sure services are provided to the community as efficiently as possible.

When AMT and PFD respond to a scene, from dispatch to arrival is around seven minutes on average.

Fitch’s report says the Peoria Fire Department is performing very well.

By all respects, there is no evidence to suggest that the department isn’t performing at a relatively high level. Fire department travel times are 4:32 for 90% of incidents. When evaluating call concurrency, unit hour utilizations, and system performance by available vehicles, it is clear the system is quite resilient — and capable of handling additional workload without the need to invest in further resources for some time. The department’s current deployment strategies have significant long-term sustainability from an operational standpoint.”

Fitch & Associates Report

In the beginning, Fitch wanted the City to shut down six firehouses. That notion was deemed not possible.

Alternatives discussed included leaving the system in a status quo posture; or a significant adjustment changing system performance to a level of 6:00 travel time at the 90th percentile which could allow for a reduction of 6 fire apparatus. At that time, Fitch offered an alternative which employed a measured adjustment to the system keeping the citizen’s perspective of performance largely the same with a limited reduction of 3 apparatus. The City Council, as part of the budget process, elected to adjust the Fire Department budget based on this alternative by a reduction of two apparatus.”

Fitch & Associates Report

Fitch’s advice is “for the City to undertake a full evaluation on the staffing/operations in the 911 center with the goal of improving performance and most closely aligning with best practices.”

“The City should revise and implement an EMS deployment plan which reflects best practices in EMS system design,” the report continued.

Mayor Ardis says the City works with Project Medical Director Matthew Jackson decides what is considered an emergency call.

“The Project Medical Director chooses what calls emergency responses are. The Medical Director would never say ‘the City of Peoria doesn’t need to respond on a fire call,’ because that is our primary duty. But in the case of a fender-bender or a situation like that where the first on the scene, whether it’s a police officer or somebody calling, would indicate it doesn’t seem there is a major injury that would require lights and sirens to the scene, the Project Medical Director may determine we don’t have to send somebody unless a determination is made that it does require advanced service,” Mayor Ardis said.

Mayor Ardis doesn’t believe any big decisions will be made Tuesday at the Special Meeting, but says changes will be coming down the line.

Mayor Ardis wants to make it very clear that no cuts have been decided on.

“No decisions have been made in terms of cutting anything. It’d be very premature to say that’s predetermined. What we’re trying to do is make sure we are as efficient as we can possibly be,” Mayor Ardis said.

Mayor Ardis says people will not get less service, but they will receive more efficient service.

Mayor Ardis added two new firehouses are coming to Peoria. One in the South Side, and another right in front of the Expo Gardens off Northmoor.

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