In an emergency situation, the location of fire stations plays a large role in how quickly first responders can reach a scene. For victims, however, this distance determines how much delay must be endured before receiving care. The city of San Diego is exploring a way to reduce the distance first responders have to travel to reach victims.
Delays prompt new personnel deployment
Over the past several years, San Diego has struggled with timely emergency response. According to an analysis from Voice of San Diego, first responders arrived late to a scene more than 37,000 times in a 21-month period from 2011 to 2013. Those highest-priority incidents include cardiac arrests, chokings and shootings.
First responders aim to arrive on the scene within seven-and-a-half minutes of a call. In San Diego, they often exceeded this threshold, dramatically increasing the risk to people suffering severe medical emergencies. According to the American Heart Association, for example, every minute that passes without medical help after a cardiac arrest drops an individual's chances of survival by as much as 10 percent.
As a result, San Diego is considering several courses of action that would ultimately speed up emergency response time. One of these possibilities is the implementation of two-person crews positioned around the city, which could allow first responders to reach a scene more quickly.
Two-person crews get mixed reviews
Known as fast-response squads, firefighter pairs would be situated in strategic locations around San Diego and called upon to react to emergency scenarios. Although these teams would not be able to help in every situation — entry to a burning building requires at least four firefighters on-site, for instance — each crew would be equipped to offer medical expertise and care.
The city does not know whether fast-response squads would prove effective. Local government officials present significant opposition to the proposal, as many of them would rather appropriate the funding for these crews toward the construction of traditional fire stations. However, the fire union and San Diego's fire-rescue chief both agreed to test a pilot program, should the innovation gain widespread approval.
Merging safety with response is a priority
Those who oppose the move to fast-response squads cite safety concerns as their reason to hesitate. However, those concerns may be blown out of proportion.
In addressing the claim that crews would cause understaffing issues by removing firefighters from their firehouses, Voices of San Diego noted that the assignments would not impact those on duty elsewhere. The $600,000-per-year price tag for each two-person crew would cover the cost of extra manpower.
The news source also countered concerns about an inability to fight fires with just two officers by noting that less than 3 percent of runs by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department in 2013 were in response to fires. Instead, an overwhelming 87 percent dealt with medical emergencies. If at least one member of the fast-response squad has some type of tactical medical training, smaller crews could handle most emergency calls.
Currently, it is unknown whether San Diego will adopt the fast-response squads. Other areas may be more open to the strategy, however, allowing first responders to act quickly and responsibly in emergency situations. In particular, densely populated cities without adequate room to build more traditional fire stations may see the appeal of fast-response crews.
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