Even though the Quincy Fire Department was just given permission to spend more than $1 million to buy two new firetrucks, Fire Chief Joe Henning says the department is looking for ways to cut costs. One area he’s examining closely is the practice of dispatching firetrucks along with Adams County ambulances to certain emergency calls in Quincy.
In many cases, firefighters trained as paramedics or emergency medical technicians arrive at emergency scenes before an ambulance can get there. These firefighter crews often provide emergency medical service care to victims of accidents, heart attacks and other threatening health issues. In some cases, lives have been saved.
However, Henning said he realizes not all calls are emergencies that require firetrucks to respond, and he’s working to tweak the dispatching system to make sure fire crews are summoned only when absolutely necessary.
This issue was raised at Monday’s City Council meeting by Alderman Mike Rein, R-5, during a discussion about why the Fire Department needs to update some worn-out firefighting apparatus.
Rein said it irks him to see $400,000 firetrucks sent out to “chase ambulances” when a number of those calls are not truly emergencies.
Mayor John Spring responded: “We don’t chase ambulances. We get there before ambulances, and we save lives.”
Rein agreed firefighters “do a wonderful job on those EMS calls.” But he added: “It just continues to irritate me that we’ve got to take a huge, expensive piece of equipment to do that.”
Rein said he wishes the department would use smaller, less costly vehicles when responding to EMS calls. However, Henning noted that firefighters are often working on public education programs at local schools and other institutions, and they routinely have a firetruck — containing all their advanced life-support equipment — with them at the time.
“We must be able to respond from wherever we’re at,” he said, adding that firefighters often spend time away from the fire station. They wouldn’t have time to rush back to the station to get a different vehicle.
Besides, he added: “We need to be able to respond in fire-fighting capacity as well.”
That’s why his main push will be to reduce the number of calls involving firetrucks so they only include true emergencies.
Henning said in the city’s most recent fiscal year — from May 1, 2008, to April 30, 2009 — the QFD responded to 1,986 EMS calls, which averages out to about 38 per week. In 63 percent of those calls, he said, firetrucks arrived on the scene before ambulances got there. In another 20 percent of cases, firetrucks and ambulances arrived simultaneously. That means in just 17 percent of the cases, firetrucks arrived after the ambulance.
“So we are making a difference,” he said.
But there’s always room for improving the system and holding down costs, he added.