Effectiveness of one rural fire department is questioned

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Some discussion at Thursday's meeting of the Bourbon County Commission centered around concerns some county officials have with the response rate of a rural fire department in 2016.

At the request of commissioners, Bourbon County Emergency Manager William Wallis had previously given commissioners a list of fire calls in 2016 that he obtained from the county dispatch center, and calls that were responded to.

From that data, Commissioner Jeff Fischer created spreadsheets based on response to calls. The report showed efficiencies and effectiveness ratings for the county's rural fire departments. It summarized incident call reports provided by Wallis at the Jan. 17 county commission meeting.

Effectiveness is defined in the report as the percentage of calls where there was a response time logged at the 911 call center divided by the number of calls to each agency.

"They got feedback from the community," Wallis said Monday. "They wanted me to talk to dispatch and get a report generated to show the calls as they come in for the entire county. They wanted to see what type of efficiency rating per their response time to calls."

According to the report Fischer created, Fire District No. 2 in Garland had a 77.27 percent effectiveness rating for total calls responded to. Out of 44 total calls, the district responded to 34 calls. The report showed how many of the total calls received a response. If a call was put in and cancelled, it was counted as "not responded to," according to the report.

In the report, Fire District No. 3, which includes Bronson, Devon, Fulton, Hiattville, Mapleton and Uniontown, showed varied effectiveness ratings of between 85.7 percent to 98.7 percent, for an average of 92.4 percent; Fire District No. 4 in Redfield showed 97.3 percent effectiveness and Fire District No. 5, Scott Township, showed an 89.8 percent rating. Total effectiveness rating for all departments was 91.5 percent.

"The bottom line, Commissioner Fischer took those reports and made a spreadsheet and came up with an interesting summary, which pointed out that per fire department, the majority are in the upper 80s or even 90 percent," Wallis said.

Wallis said at Thursday's meeting that based on the numbers on the spreadsheet, "there is a safety issue" in Fire District No. 2.

Commissioners urged Wallis to discuss the matter with County Attorney Justin Meeks and bring the issue back to commissioners in the future.

Wallis said there was no personnel from any rural fire department present at Thursday's meeting.

"So after the meeting, it brought to life that I'll be going through the county attorney and proposing to him this is an unsafe working department (District No. 2 Garland)," Wallis said Monday. "Their effectiveness to respond is very, very low. And this was an unbiased survey done on every department."

Fischer said at Thursday's meeting he has concerns that if the county were to be sued by ineffective response times, the commissioners' names could be on the lawsuit.

Wallis said regarding fire districts, they were previously informed by Meeks that "unless it became a safety issue, we don't have a dog in the fight."

Wallis said based on this data, "we have a dog in the fight," according to unofficial minutes of the Thursday commission meeting.

Fischer said Tuesday the "safety issue is a concern" as well as efficiencies. He said commissioners are trying to "look for efficiencies" in the operations of the rural fire departments.

"We're looking at counties of similar size and what they do," Fischer said. "It's a process of 'where are we at?'"

Fischer said if the county were to be sued due to an incident in which there was no response or possible injuries, commissioners would be named individually in the lawsuit.

"So do we ignore it and hope it goes away, or can we address this?" he said.

Fischer said he is also looking into compiling some insurance data and adding it into the report.

Wallis said all rural fire departments have some type of mutual aid agreement in place. There was some discussion at Thursday's meeting about some Scott Township residents being in Garland's district.

"What I walked away with is, Garland has an automatic mutual aid," he said. "When they're toned out to a call, Scott Township is as well. Scott Township goes to their calls and covers their own calls.

"We're talking about a volunteer department. Volunteers comprise the departments," Wallis said, adding the "purpose behind mutual aid agreements" is to help departments cover sometimes large areas.

"Everything stems to responsibility, and their (department's) abilities to respond and say to dispatch who gives the call, 'I have this many personnel to send out,'" he said. "Garland is understaffed; the numbers show it and an inability to respond to calls. They need to respond and bring up their performance rating. I believe it's an unsafe situation per these response times and responses, period. They're operating in an unsafe fashion. And it could be due to being understaffed, we don't know."

A call to Garland Fire Department regarding the status of volunteers was not returned by press time.

Wallis also said emails he has sent and phone calls made to District No. 2 are blocked.

"They (District No. 2) are not transparent and not coming forth with any numbers on staffing," he said. "We're hitting a brick wall asking for any kind of information or feedback. That issue has to be addressed."

Wallis said he plans to go through the process "in a methodical way."

"I'm going to talk to the county attorney and ask him what he thinks about this effectiveness and efficiency report," he said. "And does he feel it's an unsafe situation."

Wallis said he also plans to talk to the Drywood Township and Scott Township boards, which share a mutual relationship with the Garland fire department "and ask them to consult with their fire board."

"And ask both boards to do an inquiry into the Garland fire department and their staffing to get proof," he said. "And also have the fire board present to Garland fire department these efficiency findings ... Their rating must come up for the sake of the community more than anything. Any time Scott Township can say their staff numbers are getting thin, and going to Garland calls could be dropping our effectiveness."

Wallis said he hopes to make some headway with the fire board to get some answers.

"Accountability and transparency are two words I'm looking for," he said.

The report also showed that of the 1,351 calls routed through the emergency call center last year, 1,237 were logged as "responded to," which is about a 92 percent affirmative response rate on all calls routed through the center.

Out of 1,013 total calls, District No. 3 responded to 936 calls; District No. 4 responded to 37 of 38 calls and District No. 5 responded to 230 of 256 total calls.