The Future of Emergency Response in Johns Creek

Guest Post by Councilman John Bradberry

Public safety and emergency response.  These are the most important responsibilities of any city government.  As the safest city in Georgia, these are a well-deserved point of pride and sense of security for Johns Creek residents.

As fortunate as we are, not all of Johns Creek receives the same speed of response from the fire department.  Our highly professional fire department understandably takes longer to get to those areas that are furthest from their stations.

The City is considering plans to build a new fire station at a cost of approximately $3M to help reduce response times in the northwestern side of Johns Creek, one of several areas encountering slower response times.  This new station will improve response times in its zone, but not in the other areas (see map).

Fire Station Response Times in Johns Creek

Consider this:  the modern day fire department’s life saving mission has evolved far beyond the dangers of fighting fires.  A quick look at the data makes this readily apparent in Johns Creek.  

Since Jan. 1, we have thankfully had only 45 fire-related incidents out of 3,708 total responses. Contrast this number with the 1,629 responses so far this year for rescue and EMS.  Our firefighters are impacting far more lives in medical-related emergencies than in actual fires.

Perhaps the biggest cost of the status quo is the least discussed. Valuable fire/emergency medical personnel are obligated to be dispatched for non-emergencies (1,924 responses of the above have been either good intent calls, service, or false alarms).  When an "every-minute-counts" emergency occurs, it's cold comfort when a 10-minute response time from another crew must be a few minutes slower in response for someone in cardiac arrest, or a 7 year-old suffering a severe allergic reaction.

As our emergency response needs continue in a trend of fewer fires, it is necessary that we critically evaluate if additional investments in building new traditional fire stations still make as much sense as they once did.   The proposed new fire station will certainly bring increased public safety and other benefits within that response zone.  Decreased response times are expected. These are tangible benefits.  The question becomes whether we can get similar or better benefits to public safety with a different approach.  This is especially true if the opportunity exists for faster response times at decreased costs.  

Rather than a traditional fire station with traditional large fire trucks and their traditionally large expenses, let us think big by thinking smaller -and smarter - and faster.

Los Angeles has recognized this shift in emergency response and has responded with a Fast Response Vehicle (FRV) program.  The FRV fills in service gaps through strategic placements of the vehicles in the “field”.  

The FRV is “a quad-cab pickup truck...that will carry equipment enabling members to provide advanced life support (ALS) care to time-critical patients and respond to other emergency incidents. The FRV will carry 150-300 gallons of water with pumping capability and will also carry all equipment and supplies of a paramedic rescue Mobile Intensive Care Unit (MICU) or ALS assessment unit.”

According to the LAFD, their FRV is “a new, innovative apparatus that functions as a non-transporting ALS and fire suppression resource. It is intended to decrease response times and improve operational efficiency by performing rapid on-scene triage and patient care”.  

A first of its kind study that evaluated similar FRVs concluded that these vehicles stationed in the targeted areas are responding 26% faster than responses from traditional fire stations.  This seems logical, especially in Johns Creek, where a smaller apparatus could navigate traffic, intersections and neighborhood streets more quickly.  FRVs seem especially appropriate for our vastly residential community.

With multiple areas of the city needing improved response and the need to stretch tax dollars, building ourselves a perfect network of traditional fire stations seems impractical.  We can, however, deploy a FRV in our underserved areas relatively quickly and with less taxpayer resources. With the potential to offer the fastest possible response times, FRVs offer a real life saving proposition impossible to ignore.

Where would FRVs best fit into our emergency response strategy?  Should they be used in lieu of a new station?  Should they be deployed between now and when a new station is built or perhaps deploy them in those areas that are also currently underserved?  I have asked our City Staff to evaluate this concept and we are awaiting their analysis.  

The City Council is set to discuss and vote on a new fire station at our next meeting on October 22.  As Johns Creek seeks to improve our emergency response capability, I hope that we will strongly consider FRVs in our service delivery strategy.  Our residents deserve the best emergency response possible.

- John Bradberry, City Council Post 3

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