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Phoenix Fire reduces service calls by 8%

The Phoenix Fire Department has reduced what had been a challenging number of service calls while increasing its personnel count.

In a report to City Council that is part of a subcommittee hearing today, Nov. 1, the department says it has been able to reduce service calls by 8% through various operational changes that include a closer assessment of requests for help, especially those medical-related calls.

“The historical trend for the department activity levels has consistently been a year-over-year increase,” the report states. “After a comprehensive review of dispatch protocols, the fire department has reduced the overall activity level in 2023 by an average of 8% compared to 2022.”

Fueled by population growth, Phoenix Fire last year reported that it responded to 241,565 calls citywide in 2021 and projected last year’s total would hit 242,163. Eight years ago, it answered 189,757 fire and medical calls.

Reducing the number of service calls and the number of vacancies helps improve response times.

Last year the department reported that soaring demand, staffing shortages and an insufficient number of fire stations meant that Phoenix fire engines, ladder trucks and ambulances on average take almost nine minutes to arrive at the scene 90% of the time.

The National Fire Protection Association’s standard for acceptable response times to fires is 5 minutes and 20 seconds or less in 90% of calls for service, less than 5 minutes 90% of the time for ambulances. 

The council report does not mention whether the department’s reduction in calls for service and increased staffing have impacted response times.

But Phoenix Fire admits, “currently, the fire department’s response times exceed the NFPA-established standards.”

And it indicates that medical calls remain challenging.

Explaining that its 40-year-old patient transport to hospitals “ensures that the residents of Phoenix receive the highest level of care,” the report says medical transports are now increasing an average 20% each shift.

“Due to the significant increase in patient transportation, the Fire Department obtained two new ambulances in Fiscal Year 2023-24,” it says. “Department has developed a strategy for future changes to the existing program that would provide the needed resources to manage the increasing demand for service.”

One of the problems cited in the past is the lack of fire stations, which the $500 bond issue  at stake in next Tuesday’s city election seeks to address by allocating around $90 million for construction of four new fire stations.

The new fire station being constructed in Ahwatukee at 19th Avenue and Chandler Boulevard – the community’s fourth – is not funded by the 2023 bond measure. Money for that is coming from the city’s capital budget.

The department’s good news in the report before council today is based on the results of various changes in the way it manages and evaluates calls and other operations.

For example, the report says the department has “changed dispatch criteria” that results in a more efficient assignment of  manpower and equipment for service calls while it expanded its Community Assistance Program, which uses civilians to handle calls involving mental health emergencies.

It also has implemented a “Telehealth call diversion program,” so that some 911 calls are diverted to medical professionals for either in-person or telehealth responses.

The report says the department closely monitors existing emergency resources so that “units are assigned in the most effective locations” while it also has “developed a comprehensive, prioritized plan for additional resources.”

Although it did not provide details, the report also says the department is using “alternative, cost-effective response resources to increase capacity.”

“PFD monitors emergency response activity levels to understand how the system is performing and what capacity level for additional service delivery may exist,” the report states. 

“The Phoenix Fire Department operates a fire-based, emergency patient transportation system,” the report states. “This system has been in place for almost four decades. This system ensures that the residents of Phoenix receive the highest level of care from the point of calling 9-1-1 to the hospital arrival. 

“While the number of transports remained consistent for many years, the department has experienced an average increase of 20 percent more transports each shift.”

The report states that the department “has developed a strategy for future changes to the existing program that would provide the needed resources to manage the increasing demand for service.”

Both recruitment and operational changes will continue to be priorities for the department, the report notes.

“The Fire Department will continue to seek innovative solutions to manage hiring and recruitment challenges to meet future needs,” it says. 

“Response times and activity levels will continue to be monitored regularly to allow for proactive solutions and development to meet the community’s current NFPA standards and needs.”

Last year the department called attention to its manpower shortage, though it did not mention a specific number of job vacancies.

Today’s report states, “As of July 1, the department had  sworn positions increased to 1,798 to improve staffing levels and prepare for future fire station growth.”

Earlier this year, Executive Assistant Chief Scott Walker said the department expected to add a total 172 firefighters by the end of the current fiscal year – a 10% increase over 2022 staffing levels.

The report says that while Phoenix historically “experienced high interest during recruitment efforts” and that “significant interest remains” in firefighter jobs, it “must work to ensure a robust pool of candidates remains available for future opportunities.”

Phoenix Fire is using “multiple affinity groups, recruitment captains, community partners, and schools to collaborate and collectively address recruitment as a priority,” according to the report. 

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