A report analyzing Menlo Park Fire Protection District operations from 2016 to 2018 has suggested improvements in the district's response times to emergencies.
The amount of time between fire dispatch receiving calls and alerting the district, times for assembling firefighters' apparatus and beginning response to emergencies, and times for traveling to and from incidents are higher than the district's performance goals and national standards, according to a consultant's report entitled "Community Risk Assessment: Standards of Cover" commissioned by the district from Emergency Services Consulting International of Wilsonville, Ohio.
The report is part of the district's accreditation process, according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The amount of excess time in emergency responses was part of a list of 25 findings about department performance, Schapelhouman wrote in a response to the report.
"Overall, the majority of the 25 findings were positive and stated that the fire district should continue its current practices," he said. "However, 11 of the 25 have been deemed by the fire district as 'challenges' requiring further ... investigation, research, discussion or improvement."
Fire dispatch, which is handled by San Mateo County, not the district, processes medical and service calls within one minute and 45 seconds 90% of the time and fire calls within two minutes and 43 seconds 90% of the time, whereas national firefighting standards say that calls should be processed within 64 seconds 90% of the time, according to the study.
"The way we do this is an agreement in the entire county," Schapelhouman said. "There is a lot of discussion about emergency medical dispatch. It's a countywide issue and not as easy as it sounds."
Travel times to incidents could be improved through cooperation with cities in limiting traffic calming measures, such as speed bumps, hard medians and curb extensions that prevent emergency vehicles from being slowed at arriving at their destinations, according to the report.
District board member Virginia Chang-Kiraly said this could be overcome with cooperation from the cities and towns in the service area, including Menlo Park, Atherton and East Palo Alto.
"A lot of the traffic mitigation devices slow the movement of traffic, and the congestion in our neighborhood shows that," Chang-Kiraly said. "All the cities have to plan with us and if they don't plan with us, there's only so much we can do."
"We don't like traffic control devices and traffic congestion," Schapelhouman seconded. "It's often travel times that cause the delay. We do have a very good network of fire stations and the distances between them are very small."
The report also suggested that response times could be improved in the case of medical emergencies, which constitute 65% of district calls, by sending an ambulance or another vehicle staffed by paramedics in place of a fire engine.
In emphasizing the importance of responding to medical calls swiftly, board member Chuck Bernstein cited a report from the American Heart Association stating that 95% of cardiac patients can be saved if they are treated within one to two minutes of the cardiac incident. In contrast, after seven minutes only 6% of victims are saved and after nine minutes, 0%.
"Response times are key in medical emergencies," Bernstein said. "We have a population that is aging and going to have more cardiac calls, and the survival rate depends on how fast you can get there."
In other report findings, the department responded to 27 building fires during the period studied, but only responded to nine of the fires during the time outlined in its performance goals, according to the report.
"The Fire District will analyze each of these incidents to determine what actually occurred and why," Schapelhouman wrote in his response.
The department is also "quite dependent" on neighboring agencies to provide an effective response force, referring to automatic aid from other districts, and does not have a districtwide program that plans responses to hazards in advance, according to the report.
The report also made a host of other recommendations, including seeking alternative revenue sources for capital projects to supplement the regular revenue stream from tax receipts "to improve services, replace apparatus or build new stations."