Rio Rancho Fire Rescue Department is doing a good job with available resources, but it needs more people and stations for faster response times, according to a consultant.
Bill Sager of Citygate Associates LLC consulting firm recommended the city start by, among other things, staffing a second ambulance crew at Station 1 on Southern Boulevard from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week as a six-month trial.
Sager spoke at a Rio Rancho Governing Body work session Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. His company was hired to do a fire department staffing and operations study last fall.
“You can be proud of your fire department,” he said.
RRFRD personnel are professional, technically competent and dedicated to their community and mission, Sager said. They handle fires, provide excellent patient care, and use resources efficiently, he said.
“We can see the fire department is doing everything it can to do the best it can with the facilities and resources it has,” Sager said.
For the study, he examined 30,000 incidents from January 2010 to December 2013.
“Rio Rancho incident demands are typical of suburban communities,” Sager said.
Station 1 handles a third of the activity of the whole department, which includes six operating stations and a headquarters, he said.
The National Fire Prevention Association recommends that fire and ambulance crews have a response time of no more than seven minutes, including four minutes of travel time, from a 911 call to the first unit arriving on scene. Sager said RRFRD fell short of that standard, mainly because of the travel time.
Crews had a four-minute travel time 35 percent of the time, he said. Most travel times were more than 8 minutes.
Part of the problem, Sager said, is that the fire department is so busy between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. that units often handle calls away from their home district and have to travel back for calls in that district. Crews often spend more than 20 percent of their time on calls, meaning they have little time for decontamination, reports and even restroom breaks.
“These guys are busy,” he said.
While Sager said it’s good that stations are in population clusters, but the scattered placement of those clusters spreads out stations, hampering response time.
The fire department is maxed out, and development in the northern part of the city will pull more resources away, he said.
To help immediately, Sager recommended working to decrease time it takes to dispatch crews and for them to get ready to leave. He also suggested planning to have the engine from Station 6 in Mariposa stationed at a different place during peak times, as well as changing the response policy to have tiers based on population and zoning density.
The city fire department also shouldn’t overextend itself with service in the county, Sager continued, and should try the extra ambulance at Station 1 for six months. He said existing personnel could staff the second ambulance on overtime with a cost of $73,400.
If that ambulance helped lower response times, as Sager believes it would, he recommended making it a permanent feature during peak hours seven days a week, which would cost about $210,000 a year.
As the city can afford it, Sager advised getting a second ambulance at Station 7 on Rockaway Boulevard and adding stations, starting in south Rio Rancho.
Councilor Chuck Wilkins asked if the city should close Station 6 and redeploy crews and equipment. Sager said doing so would be politically difficult, but resources would probably be better used in the southern part of the city.