By JOHN HOWELL Warwick firefighters and rescues are taking longer to respond to calls than standards for a suburban community this size set by the National Fire Protection Association, according to log sheets for the first quarter of the year analyzed by
Warwick firefighters and rescues are taking longer to respond to calls than standards for a suburban community this size set by the National Fire Protection Association, according to log sheets for the first quarter of the year analyzed by Ken Block.
Block – whose company, Simpatico Software Systems, was based in Warwick until the pandemic, when staff started working from home – is the founder of the nonprofit WatchdogRI. In working with reporter Jim Hummel of the Hummel Report on a story published in the Providence Sunday Journal on Fire Department overtime costs, Block looked at the response times for all apparatus responding to calls from the first of January through March of this year.
Block said in a recent interview that daytime rescue dispatches – 6 a.m. to midnight – were on scene, on average, in 8 minutes and 53 seconds, which Block said is slow according to standards set by the NFPA.
For the quarter, Block said the city’s four rescue companies responded to a total of 3,450 calls. Of those, 466 calls were canceled before the rescue arrived on scene. He then removed 183 response times exceeding 20 minutes so as not to skew the numbers. Had those responses been added to the mix, the average response time would have soared to more than 10 minutes, he said.
Especially puzzling to Block, leading him to the conclusion firefighters have difficulty waking up, is that the night rescue dispatches – between midnight at 5:59 a.m. – averaged 9 minutes and 27 seconds even though there is less traffic at that time.
In standards set in 2017, the NFPA says fire departments “shall establish the following objectives” for EMS response time for dense urban, urban or suburban areas – 60 seconds for turnout time (the time for the unit to leave the station) and an additional 240 second (4 minutes) for a first responder with automatic external defibrillator to arrive at the scene. The guidelines for a rural response is the same 60 seconds for turnout plus 5 minutes to reach the scene.
Michael Carreiro, president of the Warwick Firefighter Union, was skeptical of the findings, labeling Block “notoriously anti-firefighter.”
“I understand from other unions that his numbers used in other municipalities to attack firefighters were often cherry-picked and inaccurate. I can’t comment on unsupported allegations made by Block, but my guess would be that he is simply wrong,” Carreiro wrote in an email.
“The chief should be asked about turnout time and the average response times in general. People’s lives literally hang in the balance, and these number are pretty bad,” Block said.
Warwick Fire Chief Peter McMichael, who was also forwarded a synopsis of Block’s findings, questioned the accuracy of the information, claiming that Block’s allocations are frequently proven inaccurate.
McMichael said the department follows NFPA guidelines on desired response times. He could not say if the standards are being met.
Observing that he used information provided by the department and saying “anyone can recreate these findings,” Block said, “as a critical public official I had higher hopes for the fire chief than a game of shoot the messenger.”
When told of the numbers, Mayor Frank Picozzi and City Finance Director Peder Schaefer questioned if Block, who has been outspoken about the cost of operating fire departments, was suggesting the city create a fifth rescue company to improve the average response time. The mayor also noted the layout of the city and that location of the airport compounds response times.
Block agreed the addition of a rescue could reduce response times, but he thought that could be accomplished without great expense if the firefighters and the city could work out an agreement giving the city greater flexibility on minimum manning requirements.
As it is, Block says, “I would not want to take a heart attack in Warwick with response times like these. Warwick is paying Rolls Royce prices for its fire services, but receiving response times worse than what are seen in rural America.”