Arizona Fire District Reduces Response Times with Situational Awareness (7/18/12)
Emergency response in Pima County, Ariz., improved significantly since the Northwest Fire Rescue District deployed the FirstWatch real-time situational awareness system, which allows for close monitoring of each step in 9-1-1 call processing and fire/EMS response.
Northwest Fire Rescue District was seeking reaccreditation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence. To be accredited, fire and EMS agencies have to meet rigorous standards in multiple areas of performance. The district faced several hurdles: 9-1-1 call processing times were not meeting national standards, and fire district officials saw room for improvement in firefighter response, including how fast they were getting geared up and leaving the station and how quickly they were initiating treatment on scene.
To address those issues, the fire district applied for and received a $50,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (FIRE Act) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to deploy FirstWatch, an Internet-based real-time data monitoring and surveillance system that could be integrated with the district's fire records system. The grant covered 80 percent of the cost; the district covered 20 percent.
Phase one of Northwest Fire's operations quality improvement initiative began in September 2011. According to national standards, ambulances should be dispatched within 60 seconds of a call coming in to a 9-1-1 communications center, in 90 percent of cases. However, the emergency dispatch center the district contracts with was meeting that standard only 17 percent of the time.
Using the new software, Northwest Fire District officials began monitoring each call in near real time to determine precisely how long it took to dispatch a fire truck and acted quickly when calls took too long. Dispatchers are now meeting the standard more than 50 percent of the time, and trending upward.
Phase two of the quality improvement initiative involved using the technology to closely monitor all aspects of firefighters' performance. That included measuring how long it took them to leave the station after being dispatched to an emergency, how long it took to arrive on scene, and how long it took to get the fire truck back into service so that it was ready to answer another call, a sign of operational efficiency.
Phase three, which is ongoing, involves using FirstWatch to mine electronic patient care reports, seeking out areas for improvement. One such measurement is how long it takes firefighters to use a 12-lead EKG, which diagnoses the most serious type of heart attack.
“The implementation of the First Watch system has allowed those who take the emergency call for help and those who respond to the incident the power to visualize the impacts that time has on the responses, when measured to performance standards,” said Northwest Fire Rescue District Chief Jeff Piechura. “This empowerment through the use of information has reduced call processing and turnout times, resulting in shortening the time between the initial call for help and the responders arriving at the front door to provide it.”
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