Friday, February 21, 2014

Fire Department gets mixed review

Consultant praises professionalism, offers ideas for improvement


By ERIC AVISSAR
Express Staff Writer

     A consultant’s report has offered significant praise for Ketchum Fire Department personnel, while suggesting several areas of improvement, particularly with the need for a new firefighting facility.

     During a Ketchum City Council meeting Tuesday, the McGrath Consulting Group, which specializes in fire, police and emergency services consulting, delivered a lengthy report on its first comprehensive audit of the Fire Department since 2006.

     CEO Tim McGrath, who had 33 years of firefighting experience, praised the work ethic and working relationships between the career and volunteer firefighters in the department.

     “I am very impressed by the professionalism of this department,” McGrath said. “Often when I look at other fire departments, there’s a rivalry between the career and volunteer firefighters. Here, the volunteer firefighters said they want to help the career firefighters, while the career firefighters said they are there to serve the volunteer firefighters.”

     The department has 52 members, composed of 13 career firefighters, 38 volunteers and one civilian administrative assistant.

     Discussing response calls, McGrath said the department should be “out the door” within 60 seconds on an emergency medical call and within 80 seconds for a fire call. However, his data said the fire department’s average turnout time is 114 seconds.

     The long response time, he said, is primarily because of a flaw in the logging of data—occasions in which firefighters are forced to remain at the station for lengthy periods of time significantly boost the average. McGrath added that he could not determine the average travel time with the data provided. He suggested that in order to attain more accurate data, calls for backcountry rescues should be placed in a separate report to avoid skewing the average response time.

     The department requires a minimum of two people to be on call at all times. However, McGrath said more than two people should be operating an engine when responding to a fire.

     “There are copious amounts of data against the safety of a two-person engine,” he said. “This is a major safety issue that needs to be addressed.”

     McGrath also said the city is not conducting fire code inspections at commercial buildings regularly enough. He recommended that the city hire a full-time fire prevention code officer dedicated to inspecting the 250 or so businesses that it is required to do by state law.

     McGrath repeatedly emphasized the difficulty his consulting team faced in evaluating the data presented on the department because the department changed its computer system three times.

     “I’m really pleased with the effort the staff and chief made to get this data,” McGrath said. “But I can tell you that we had a lot of difficulty with it.”

     According to the audit, the amount of money spent by the city per call has increased over the past three fiscal years. In fiscal year 2011, the cost per call was $1,480.35, with an increase to $1,596.54 for fiscal year 2012. A much sharper increase occurred in the most recent fiscal year, as the average call was $1,934.55.

     Both McGrath and Consulting Chief Mike Streets emphasized the importance for Ketchum to have a better ladder truck, while Streets said Ketchum should share Sun Valley’s new ladder truck. Sun Valley Mayor Dewayne Briscoe attended the meeting, and said it was never Sun Valley’s intention to have its own ladder truck.

     For the department’s training, McGrath called for improvements in certifications, lesson plans and documentation.

     “Career personnel training hours need to be increased by 20 hours a month,” he said. “Volunteers should spend 68 hours training each year.”

     The department now requires volunteers to attend at least 45 hours of fire training per year.

     At the close of his presentation, McGrath spoke with an optimistic view toward the department’s future, while urging the city to become more proactive in handling the department’s needs.

     “It’s time for you to look through the windshield instead of the rearview mirror,” McGrath said. “You guys have some great opportunities—now it’s time for you to take them.”




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