Rescuers’ calls up, response times slower

Grand Junction Fire Department firefighters and emergency medical technicians responded to calls an average of 1 to 2 minutes more slowly in 2008 compared to previous years.

They’re also responding to hundreds more calls each year, according to the department’s recently released 2008 annual report.

While the total number of fire calls has decreased between 2006 and last year, the number of medical calls for ambulance service has jumped by 843 calls just between 2007 and 2008.

Grand Junction Fire Department Captain Ken Watkins attributed the increase in the call load to a general population increase. The longer response times may be a combination of a population boom and ambulances responding to calls from farther-away locations.

The Grand Junction Fire Department operates out of five fire department locations, which sometimes has EMTs traveling long distances to provide medical attention, especially if emergency workers from a nearby station are already busy on another call.

But the steadily increasing response times for emergency responders does not sit well with workers and fire department administration who are trying to reduce those precious seconds. The annual report, which the department has been releasing for at least the past few years, offers a glimpse of the department’s yearly achievements and combines data, showing where improvements can be made.

In 2006, EMTs responded to medical calls in an average of 6.25 minutes, and firefighters responded to calls in an average of 7.58 minutes in Mesa County. 

Those numbers jumped in 2008 to an average of 7.39 minutes for medical calls and 9.02 minutes for fire calls.

“We’re not happy about the 9-minute response times either,” Watkins said. “The message I would like everyone to know about the fire department is our ultimate goal is to provide the best service and the most timely service, and to be most cost effective. We’re trying to be proactive. We know we need to do something.”

To do that, firefighters and EMTs are looking at ways to shave seconds — from the time the call comes into dispatch and responders begin gearing up — to the moment responders arrive at a patient’s home or to the scene of a burning home.

In 2008, voters shot down a measure that would have added more fire stations around the county, which would have lowered emergency workers’ response times, Watkins said.

Despite the increased response time, the numbers still fall within the city of Grand Junction’s acceptable response time rates for patients in Mesa County. That is a response time of 8 minutes 90 percent of the time for medical calls.

In other areas of the report, the department’s largest dollar loss of fire in city history occurred in 2008, when the KREX building burned in January.

Firefighters spent considerable resources investigating a spate of arsons that terrorized downtown Grand Junction homeowners. Investigators have said they believe a suspect in a number of those arson fires is already behind bars on other charges, and they are waiting for results on a test from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

During the busy summer months, an additional ambulance was added and staffed, a practice that will continue this summer, Watkins said.

Firefighters have responded to fewer fire calls each year since 2006, but the number of structure fires has been increasing.

In 2007, firefighters responded to 125 structure fire calls, a number that increased to 149 in 2008.

Watkins said the department is continuing to use grants to buy specialized equipment.

Officials are preparing paperwork in the hopes of getting some of the $210 million in federal stimulus dollars allocated nationally for the construction of fire departments.

To read a full copy of the report, go to


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