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Aren't We Doing Okay Now? Aren't Fire Department Response Times Good?

With the resources currently available, our fire departments have performed very well in saving lives and property from fire and response to medical emergencies. We have also had luck on our side in the past few years, aside from a few very close calls. Fire Department response times of four minutes for the first engine and eight minutes for all engines to arrive are the industry standard for areas with populations of more than 500 per square mile. In rural areas with less population a response time of up to fourteen minutes meets standards. The Fire Department Response Time map shows the areas of the county that are within nine and fourteen minute response areas from existing fire stations. Many areas of the county are outside these response time standards, which can result in increased risk of loss of life and property. As detailed in the Fire services Overview Report, many of these stations are not staffed and rely on volunteer response until the next closest staffed department can arrive. The report also details the aged and substandard condition of fire engines and response vehicles which can have a significant, negative effect on response times.

For someone experiencing a cardiac arrest, the survival rate is reduced by approximately 7% to 10% for every minute defibrillation is delayed; with the first five minutes being the most critical. After five minutes, the survival rate drops below 30% and at 10 minutes, there is less than a 10% chance of survival. The Home Fire Timeline graphic illustrates the building fire progression timeline and shows that flashover, which is the point at which the entire room erupts into fire after all the combustible objects in that room reach their ignition temperature, can occur as early as 3:00 to 5:00 minutes from the initial ignition. Human survival in a room after flashover is extremely improbable. After five minutes of free burning, structure fires are extremely difficult to contain to the room of origin and the whole house becomes threatened.

Another factor in controlling fire and saving lives is the number of firefighters and engines needed to simultaneously and effectively perform the tasks of rescue, fire suppression, and ventilation; and/or to keep small fires from becoming catastrophic under adverse conditions. It is typically recommended that 14 or more fire personnel respond to a structure fire within 11:30 minutes from the 911 call to effectively perform these critical tasks. Due to the minimal staffing (2 to 4 firefighters) at each staffed fire station in the county, mutual aid among all fire departments is necessary to achieve the required number of fire personnel on scene AND to ensure that additional emergency calls can be covered when a large turnout is needed to control a dangerous fire. Each department in the county is only as strong as their neighbor and that is the reason for creating the TCFA to ensure a solid financial and operational condition of the fire departments in Tuolumne County.