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December 10, 2008 > Union City Fire Department Develops Strategic Plan and Standards of Cover

Union City Fire Department Develops Strategic Plan and Standards of Cover

By Simon Wong

Union City Council adopted a resolution to approve the Fire Department's Strategic Plan and Standards of Cover on November 11, 2008.

The five-year Strategic Plan contains new mission, vision and core values that will guide customer service, daily decision-making and long-term planning. Comprehensive goals and objectives, which the organization will strive to achieve, have been assigned to each major area of Union City Fire Department (UCFD) - Operations, Training, Safety, Fire Prevention, Administration, Emergency Management and Multi-Agency Cooperation.

The Standards of Cover (SOC) are integral to the Strategic Plan. The SOC document, produced by Emergency Services Consulting, Inc, is an evaluation of the Fire Department's current and future positions in relation to industry standards laid down by the Insurance Services Office (ISO), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). Comparisons with neighboring cities and with the practices of similar fire departments in areas with similar demographics as Union City were examined.

Strategic issues were identified - use of truck companies, relationships with neighboring communities regarding boundary drops, better safety conditions for firefighters, overcoming road congestion, the City's future growth and development, stronger training program and funding.

The existing deployment pattern of four fire stations, equipment and personnel enables UCFD to provide responses that cope with the types of all-risk emergency calls seen in Union City. This means that UCFD can manage a moderate-risk fire at any one time but will find it difficult to respond as effectively to multiple incidents or calls for paramedics simultaneously. Mutual aid from a neighboring fire department is required to tackle a major blaze.

Union City has a risk profile and the Fire Department has a per capita workload on a par with similar cities in California. The fire risk is predominantly residential with some areas generating more calls than others. A focus on fire detection and prevention with smoke detectors and residential and commercial sprinklers has partially reduced this risk but not eliminated it completely. Requests for emergency medical services account for most calls.

The popular perception of a fire department and service levels is that funding is adequate and response times, appropriate. Few understand the relationship between funding and service levels and even fewer realize that unavoidable delays can arise when there are several incidents. Availability of more data would result in greater public understanding of operations, a more realistic community expectation and informed, public support for policy. Migration to new software will produce the requisite analysis. Currently, Union City residents are satisfied with UCFD's overall performance and know that the City's growth over the next decade will present challenges. Population size invariably determines emergency response activity. Increased funding and incremental planning will facilitate implementation of solutions to maintain and improve service levels to meet community expectations.

The distribution of UCFD's resources means that ninety-five percent of the City is covered by response times of approximately five minutes. The remaining five percent can be reached in five to eight minutes.

Concentration, the ability to provide enough resources to prevent a specific event from escalating into a major incident, is determined by risk and cost. As risk increases, the need for resources is greater. UCFD provides adequate service delivery. The Department is necessarily adaptable because of the diverse situations that exist. An arsenal of different methods, tools and techniques is essential.

The aggregate of UCFD'S turnout time, travel time and commitment time at an incident matches levels of fire service in comparable suburban areas. Currently, the total response time, which is the public's benchmark of reliability, between dialling 911 and arrival at a location exceeds the Department's own goal of four minutes. If reliability is based solely on travel time, then UCFD is "fairly reliable" given that its mean travel time is 5 minutes and 20 seconds which is closer to the industry standard of five minutes. The first fifteen minutes after a request to attend an incident are the most critical.

UCFD's current Standards of Cover are effective but improvements can and should be made to properly position the Department to manage the increased demands that will accompany estimated population growth to 90,000 residents. Generally, response times more than satisfy national standards but some parts of Union City are currently under-served.

Emergency Services Consulting, Inc. has recommended changes to procedure and capacity to close the gaps between UCFD's current position and where it wants to be in three to five years' time.

Procedural changes reduce total response time. Sometimes response units are away from their "home" stations for training or on administrative duties when emergency calls are received. A training facility, strategically located as part of the Department's resource distribution, would minimize delays. Even changes in street configuration can shorten journeys. Greater capacity arises when additional staff, equipment and fire stations are added. More mutual aid, based on excellent relationship management with fire services in neighboring jurisdictions, would improve both response time and increase capacity.

Achieving the Strategic Plan's goals and objectives and successful implementation of SOC improvements require funding. UCFD recognizes the City's current and potential budgetary constraints. Change will be incremental and based on priority.

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