Fire District says it doesn’t track average response times

Monday, September 8, 2008 | 7:26 p.m. CDT; updated 10:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 9, 2008

COLUMBIA — Officials with the Boone County Fire Protection District say they do not track average response times for emergency fire and medical calls.

Amid public discussion of the city of Columbia's territorial agreement with the Fire Protection District, the Missourian requested data on fire district response times within city limits.

The Missourian's official Sunshine Law request was filed on June 24. Two months later, the fire district responded with a one-page letter in which Division Chief Gale Blomenkamp wrote that "the time data that would be used to (fulfill the request) has been found to be inaccurate for many different reasons which are beyond our control."

In 1994, the city entered into an agreement to pay the fire district for fire service in newly annexed parts of the city. The City Council notified the fire district in June that it would cancel the agreement in its current form on Jan. 31, 2009.

Negotiations have not yet begun, though a public forum on the territorial agreement was held on Aug. 26. During the forum, the subject of fire district response times came up frequently in audience members' questions to Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade, who moderated the discussion. Two fire district board of directors members - John Gordon and John Sam Williamson - were on hand but could not provide specific information about response times. No fire district staff attended the meeting.

City Manager Bill Watkins said Monday that "response times are one critical component" in renegotiating the territorial agreement.

The territorial agreement cost the city $1,027.98 in 1995. Rises in assessed valuation of property in newly annexed city territory have caused that number to increase to $550,732 in 2007. The current agreement is predicted to cost more than $1.5 million in 2013 if left unchanged.

In an interview Monday, Blomenkamp indicated that "human intervention" at Joint Communications makes their response data inaccurate.

"If we call in and the dispatcher is busy or on the phone, it doesn't get entered (into the computer system) right away," Blomenkamp said.

But Joe Piper, administrative manager of Public Safety Joint Communications for Columbia and Boone County, said the difference would normally be "a matter of seconds."

More significant errors "happen occasionally, but are not going to be the majority of calls," Piper said. "I would argue that we are reasonably accurate ... we take arrival time seriously."

In a report submitted to the City Council at their June retreat, the Columbia Fire Department's response goal is to have a fully staffed and equipped fire truck on an emergency scene within 4.5 minutes 80 percent of the time. In 2007, the Fire Department met their goal 43 percent of the time. That number is down from 49.4 percent in 2004.


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Becky Awad September 9, 2008 | 8:26 a.m.

I find this very disturbing and hope when it's time, the city council will act on accordingly for everyone's safety!We all should be thankful for the Missourian for helping getting all the info out so we can better understand the prosses and wasted money that is going to the county.Most of all the safety for the people that this affects!

Becky Awad

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