Alan M. Petrillo
Plano (TX) Fire-Rescue is taking an old idea and putting a modern face on it, saving money, increasing efficiency, and prolonging fire apparatus life in the process.
Chief Brian Crawford says the department is changing the way it delivers emergency medical services (EMS) by adding two rescue squads in the city’s two busiest stations to take the EMS response load off two pumpers and two truck companies. The rescue squads are Chevrolet Suburbans outfitted with everything Plano Fire-Rescue’s advanced life support (ALS) ambulances carry to save a life medically. The rescue squads also have a firefighting component, carrying self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and fire turnout gear.
“We launched the program in early October and it provides increased EMS response at a savings to the city but still has valuable fire resources available for calls,” Crawford says. “The rescue squads will double the life expectancy of the pumpers, so we’ll only have to purchase a pumper every ten years, saving a half million dollars for that one vehicle.”
Plano Fire-Rescue has 350 firefighters operating out of 13 stations. It has a Rosenbauer pumper at each station with the exception of where a quint is stationed. The department also operates four Rosenbauer aerial ladders, an urban search and rescue (USAR) unit, and seven ALS ambulances.
“We looked at the vehicles we were using for our EMS calls and determined that fire apparatus was not designed to withstand the wear and tear of dozens of EMS calls daily,” Crawford points out. “That wear and tear was taxing the fleet and the biggest cost was the miles being put on pumpers, up to 120,000 miles a year. We would need to replace that pumper in five years, even though the pump would have very few hours on it.”
|(1) Plano (TX) Fire-Rescue’s newly enacted rescue squad program uses fully EMS-outfitted Chevrolet Suburbans to take the load off of two paramedic pumpers. (Photos courtesy of Bill Lindley Photography.)|
Crawford says he knew of “a better mousetrap to solve this issue.” He previously was chief of the Shreveport (LA) Fire Department, where he implemented the single paramedic rapid intervention team (SPRINT) concept. “Shreveport has a smaller population than Plano but is a larger department with 500 firefighters and about 38,000 calls a year, compared with 21,000 annually for Plano,” Crawford notes. “In Shreveport, we ran three rescue squad-style units very successfully.” Crawford took that SPRINT concept and “the rescue squad concept was born where we were able to maintain quality service and a Class 1 Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating here.”
The city of Plano is considered part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. It is 20 miles north of Dallas and encompasses 72 square miles with a population of 270,000. It is home to Snapple, J.C. Penney, and 7-Up corporate headquarters and is populated with residential and commercial structures. Several major highways run through the city.
|(2) The Plano rescue squad also carries self-contained breathing apparatus and fire turnout gear for its crew.|
The rescue squads will be housed in Station 1 and Station 4, Crawford said, and he believes they will handle approximately 3,900 incidents during their first year of operation.
In 2012, Engine 1 responded to 3,171 calls, of which 2,095 (66 percent) were EMS calls. Truck 1 at Station 1 responded to 1,191 calls, with 653 (55 percent) being EMS calls. Crawford estimates that Squad 1 will make 2,200 calls in its first year and another 200 public safety and working fire calls, for a total of 2,400 calls.
At Station 4, Engine 4 responded to 1,902 calls in 2012, of which 1,195 (63 percent) were EMS calls. Truck 4 responded to 859 calls, with 419 (58 percent) being EMS calls. Crawford says he estimates Squad 2 will make 1,300 EMS calls in its first year and another 200 public safety and working fire calls, for a total of 1,500 calls.
“Stations 1 and 4 are strategically located in the eastern and western parts of our city,” Crawford points out. “We are anxious to get the program on the road and begin measuring the data.”
Plano Fire-Rescue has four levels of priority medical dispatch and the rescue squads are expected to go to level one and two calls, the most serious. They will be used for level three and four calls as needed, Crawford says, as well as being dispatched to working structure fires as an additional safety measure. “At a working fire, the incident commander can use the rescue squad crews as needed,” he adds.
|(3) The medical gear and equipment on the Plano Fire-Rescue squads are carried on racks built on a slide-out tray.|
Money for the purchase of the rescue squad vehicles came from a fund that was initially earmarked for a new pumper, Crawford says. When the city maintained its Class 1 ISO rating with its existing fleet of equipment, that $1.5 million fund didn’t have to be spent on a new pumper if it could be more wisely spent, he notes. “We were able to take those funds; hire 15 new firefighters, which came up to $1.2 million for salaries; and still purchase the two Chevy Suburbans along with all their equipment,” Crawford says. “They cost $150,000 each, but we got two vehicles for half the cost of a new pumper and still had $100,000 left over.”
Besides saving on the cost of not having to purchase a new pumper, Crawford says there are tangible cost savings in the rescue squad concept. “Look at maintenance costs,” he says. “An oil change for an SUV is $30 but $225 for a pumper. Tires for an SUV are $800 but $2,000 for a pumper. An alternator replacement is $150 for an SUV and $2,200 for a pumper, while a windshield replacement runs $700 for an SUV and $2,700 for a pumper. Those are big differences.”
|4) Firefighter Broox Nevil, left, and Lieutenant Wilson Spain put one of Plano Fire-Rescue’s new rescue squad through its paces.|
Crawford says that there’s an undercurrent of excitement running through the department because of the new rescue squads. “With all the calls the rescue squads will be making,” he observes, “they are very sought-after vehicles to be on.”
He also believes the concept is being used more often around the country. “I think in five to ten years, rescue squads for EMS will be the rule for fire departments,” Crawford says. “We should apply alternative response vehicles where they are appropriate.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.