Firefighters Say Policy Change Is Keeping Units Out of Action

The Houston Fire Department has changed its policy on responding to calls, and there have been some gripes that the result is units are kept out of action too long.

In the past, ambulances and a fire truck would be sent out on a distress call; if it became clear the ambulance crew could handle it, the fire truck would return to its station.

Since August 1, only a fire truck is dispatched. Crews then determine whether the situation needs one of the city's 50 Basic Life Support ambulances or one of the 27 Advanced Life Support units that can handle more serious incidents.

The trouble, to some, is that the fire truck must wait on the scene until the ambulance arrives.

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"It takes those units out of service a lot longer than they had [been] before," HFD assistant fire chief Rick Flanagan tells Hair Balls.

He says the department is tracking the timing, and at the end of the month they will see if the policy needs tweaking.

There has been grumbling from firefighters at being idled while waiting for an ambulance.

"There's probably some frustration from the change of the way we did business before," Flanagan admits. "But we are looking at the statistical data."

He says he doesn't have stats available on how long firefighters have been waiting at ambulance scenes.

But, he says, "I'm getting intel from units saying, "We're spending a lot of time,' and I can understand it because beforehand it was if they got there and an ambulance came...they would say, 'Look, we got it or we don't really need your help so you can go back to the station.' Now what happens is they become a part of that puzzle and now they're on the scene and they're waiting for that first unit to come."

Flanagan says the new plan is designed to make more efficient use of the ambulances and fire trucks. "What we are trying to do is better utilize..the entire scope of resources that we have."

It's called the "All Hazards" policy, and according to a city document:

All Hazards utilizes the closest apparatus, even if it is not an ambulance, as all ladder and engine companies are staffed with four firefighters trained to provide care for any immediate life-threatening issues.

When units are out of service, their calls are covered by another station, just as they would be if they were fighting a fire instead of waiting for an ambulance.

Flanagan says HFD is in "a learning process" about the new policy.

"We have looked at the concept to say this is a plan that is probably going to better serve us, but there is a lot of things that we've got to get" in terms of information on how it's working, he says.

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