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Friday, September 5, 2014

Not All Runs Are Emergencies—A Graduated Response

The Coon Rapids Fire Department is now
using a graduated response to calls.
The newspaper article focused on Coon Rapids Fire Chief John Piper’s decision to no longer respond to all fire alarms by sending fire trucks to them with their red lights or sirens on (Code 3) unless the alarm is accompanied by a report of smoke, odor, and any other signs of trouble. Instead, a truck will respond routinely.

Chief Piper cited the risks for the public and firefighters every time a fire truck goes on emergency response and the large number of fire alarms that are false. In Coon Rapids’ case, it had been more than two years since a fire alarm was actually reporting a fire.

When I asked Chief Piper about his decision, he quickly noted that many of the Anoka County fire departments had already adopted this policy and that they were just the latest to make this change. He directed me to Nyle Zikmund, the fire chief for the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) Fire Department.
Spring Lake-Blaine-Mounds View
Fire Chief Nyle Zikmund

Zikmund said SBM started making this change 15 years ago. At SBM, many of these alarm calls are handled by a duty chief who responds routine with a chiefs’ vehicle. Zikmund noted that the call can be upgraded to a full response at any point if additional information indicates an actual emergency.

He said his research indicated that less than 0.5% of the automated fire alarms are real fires—and added that it takes alarm companies more than two minutes to process the alarm information and notify the correct dispatch center. In other words, if it was a real fire, they would be getting 911 calls well before the automated alarm could be processed.

Zikmund said his decision was about safety and about managing resources. It is a “different mindset” and a “cultural change” that involves critical thinking as part of the response. He also noted that police departments have used a routine response to many automated alarms for years for exactly the same reason. At SBM, they have 15 years of experience and data and have not had a problem.

I noted that SBM Fire Department puts an explanation of their graduated response on their website: “While every call for emergency service is answered, the level of response is dictated by the nature and degree of the emergency. This results in a response that ranges from a phone call when time permits to all equipment and staff responding and if necessary, a mutual aid request.”


                                            Responder Safety = Public Safety

Up next…The old fire packets are gone—but the information has been updated, revised, and is now online.

In the meantime, stay safe and be careful.


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