The city of Sun Valley is looking into adding two full-time firefighters for nights and weekends, to make the city staffed 24-7 with emergency responder services. There are currently no living quarters for firefighters in Sun Valley, another concern being researched by the city.
Mayor Dewayne Briscoe broke a tie to vote in the affirmative for City Council President Keith Saks’ motion on Thursday, Aug. 8, to investigate using condominiums in Elkhorn for housing firefighters on a trial basis and for Briscoe to look into the legal logistics of providing 24-7 emergency medical staffing in the city. Council members Michelle Griffith and Peter Hendricks cast dissenting votes: Griffith wanted more statistical information on current response times for EMT services before proceeding and Hendricks cited a lack of clarity in the language of Saks’ motion and a desire to extend discussions before making a decision.
Assistant Fire Chief Charlie Butterfield presented the proposal to the council last Thursday saying that residents generally assume all fire departments have round-the-clock staff, making for a difficult situation when emergency services are called for during the off-hours.
“The response to emergency medical calls and fire calls is an area of public service that delays in response time can have profound effects on the outcome of those calls,” Butterfield said in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. “Twenty-four hour staffing of firefighter/EMTs within a city creates a consistent level of response to all emergencies regardless of the time of day.”
The department employs four career, or full-time, firefighters working on weekdays, one full-time and one part-time firefighter/emergency medical technician, and 24 paid-per-call firefighters, five of which are also EMTs, according to Butterfield.
“I don’t believe that this is something that can be kicked down the street for future discussions.”
He said the four career firefighters live outside of Sun Valley and take turns being on-call for nights and weekends. Living farther away means that they don’t make the optimal six-minute window between an emergency call and arriving on scene. Six minutes or less is the recommended response time, according to a McGrath Report the city commissioned in 2007. The report also stated that housing for paid, on-call firefighters at the Elkhorn Fire Station would improve response times, especially at night.
Paid-per-call firefighters, six of which live within the city limits, carry pagers with them but are not required to respond to all calls, Butterfield said. While Ketchum and Sun Valley currently work together in answering emergency calls, having 24-7 staffing would make Sun Valley self-sufficient, a concept that resonated with Saks in particular.
There were plans drawn up in 2013 to add living quarters to the Elkhorn Fire Station. Construction of a two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit would cost about $250,000, the presentation indicated. Using existing condominiums would be more cost-effective, council members agreed.
Within Sun Valley, there were 89 emergency calls made in 2012 and nearly 60 percent of them were placed on nights or weekends, Butterfield’s presentation indicated. Between January and July of this year, there were 36 total calls for service and 25 of them were placed on nights or weekends.
He said the average response time for weekday calls versus the response for nights or weekends in 2013 was nearly twice as fast, due to the staffing discrepancy. The numbers for the first half of 2014 are even more sobering: response between January and July 2014 took an average of three minutes on weekdays as compared with eight minutes and 34 seconds on nights and weekends. For a Ketchum EMS provider to respond to an emergency in Sun Valley, it takes 11 minutes on average.
Saks made a motion to authorize Briscoe to “rapidly” investigate housing possibilities for overnight and weekend firefighters, possibly using Elkhorn condominiums on a trial basis, and to establish the policy of 24-7 EMT services within Sun Valley.
Briscoe said he would meet with the Elkhorn Homeowner’s Association within the week to discuss the feasibility of firefighter living quarters.
“Every day that we delay is a day that we’re putting our visitors, our citizens and our families at risk,” Saks said, calling the decision a matter of common sense. “I don’t believe that this is something that can be kicked down the street for future discussions.”