Tulsa Fire Department Survey Looks At EMS Response, Staffing Needs

Monday, August 15th 2016, 11:48 am
By: Dee Duren, Amy Slanchik

The City of Tulsa released the findings of a Tulsa Fire Department analysis done by the Center for Public Safety Management. The group evaluated TFD in several areas including response times, staffing, equipment, management and capital investment options that may be funded through the Vision sales tax.

The study gives Tulsa firefighters 40 recommendations, but it also highlights 10 things the Center for Public Safety Management says the department is doing right - like its smoke detector program.

When a home or building is on fire, getting to it as quickly as possible is always a firefighter's goal.

Tulsa Fire Chief Ray Driskell says the ideal response time for firefighters is six minutes or less. His department reaches that goal about 87 percent of the time, but he says that's not good enough.

One recommendation from the Center for Public Safety Management study is to reduce the response time in east Tulsa, something the chief says is already being addressed with plans to build a new station.

Driskell said, "There's several neighborhoods out there that have developed over the recent years, and we're not responding to them like we are the rest of the city and we need to fix that. That doesn't need to stay the same."

The fire chief says the immediate priority for the department is to build a station in east Tulsa. It will be paid for in part by Vision money, but it's unclear when construction will begin.

But, there are other recommendations - like hiring civilians as fire marshals and inspectors - that might need a little more discussion with city leaders.

"If you've been a fireman, you've been on a firetruck - you know a lot more about fire behavior, you know a lot more about what a fire is gonna do on a structure and what the codes mean to us. So, I can see a big benefit to having the fire marshals having firefighting experience over a civilian," Captain Jerry Gibbens said.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett said the study also focused on the medical calls the department performs as part of the city's emergency medical services. Findings include a recommendation to form two-person squads to respond to medical calls while keeping fire engines available for fire calls.

About two-thirds of the department's calls are medical, Bartlett said.

Recommendations being considered:

  • Start two-person EMSA squads that can respond to medical calls and keep fire engines available for fighting fires
  • Reducing response times in east Tulsa and close geographic gaps in service areas by building new stations and/or realigning current ones
  • Reduction in the number of vehicles sent to a single-family structure fire
  • Change from proposed four-person to three-person staffing to avoid overtime
  • Change fire marshal position to a civilian managerial employee appointed by the fire chief
  • Implement an inspection program with annual report
  • Hire civilians as fire inspectors

The following recommendations have already been implemented by the department, according to Mayor Dewey Bartlett:

  • Coordinating patient care between EMSA and TFD to provide consistent medical control, equipment, medications to achieve a seamless transfer
  • Ongoing long-range management and strategic business planning 
  • The squad concept to deal with higher call volume associated with medical calls
  • Cross-staffing specialty units, e.g.  rescue operations and grass apparatus
  • Daily inspections of reserve apparatus
  • Fire station location/relocation plan
  • Number of units dispatched to calls
  • Turnaround time on permit issuance
  • Smoke detector program
  • Injury reduction efforts

“The report confirms that many of the things we are doing are right on target,” said Chief Ray Driskell. “The report includes smart recommendations for first response emergency medical service and zeros in on strengthening our public education program for more aggressive fire prevention programs."