An emergency services consulting firm is recommending the city take steps to better document the operations of the Washington Fire Department.
Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), the firm hired to conduct a fire station location and Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating study, presented its findings Monday, Aug. 27, at the city’s administration and operation committee meeting.
The study was aimed to determine where the best location of a new firehouse would be to address coverage deficiencies, and acting as a “pre-survey” of the city’s ISO rating.
Washington has an ISO 3 rating, better than many other cities in the region. The rating stems from a divergent score of 71.73 out of 105.5
Project manager Stuart McCutcheon, who presented the firm’s findings, said one issue seriously hindering that rating is accurate and consistent documentation in the fire department.
“Documentation really is the biggest thing here,” McCutcheon said.
A good start to improving documentation would be adding a part-time fire inspector position to the department, on a trial basis. McCutcheon added that the workload to accomplish inspection and code compliance now is too much work for the on-hand staff at the department.
He said the position could ease the staff’s workload and improve the department’s accuracy when taking data.
“The workload is pretty well being put on one person to do part time, on their spare time outside of a full-time job right now,” McCutcheon said. “You’d get a lot of benefits from having that position, as well as having someone there to understand and help out with the fire department’s documentation.”
Documentation, according to the firm’s report, had a widespread effect on many facets of the department’s day-to-day activities. While data has been taken in the past, McCutcheon said it was hard to tell what was accurate and there were often problems with the actual data collection.
New Fire Station
As for the necessity for another fire station, McCutcheon said a new station on the southeast side of town could help with response times and coverage. However, he said the city’s decision could be better informed with better data collection.
“A station out there could improve performance,” McCutcheon said. “However, I would take these pieces of information holistically to make a decision on when the right time to move is. Even if we made a decision tonight, it would be two to 2 1/2 years before a station is there, functional and operational.”
He added that the city would be smart to confront the station issue early on before it becomes a real problem for the city.
“We don’t want to wait until the problem is at a head before we make a decision,” he said. “We probably want to decide what is our threshold before we take action.”
The ESCI study cost the city $34,794.
ISO ratings influence insurance rates at businesses and homes. An ISO study typically is conducted every 10 years. Washington’s most recent study was conducted about five years ago.
In August 2017, former Fire Chief Bill Halmich told the city’s administration/operations committee a new station in the area of South Point Road would provide better service.
He said the decision is based on a hydrant census of the area, which indicates there is a need for more coverage.
Halmich said the southeast area of Washington is growing and many of the hydrants in the area are located more than 1.5 miles away from the nearest stations. That’s not ideal, he said.
A new fire station could serve a dual purpose, also serving as a police substation, he added.
The study would determine if a building is needed in the area and other details.
One area being looked at is on an 18.2-acre plat near the Phoenix II development. The property is jointly owned by the city and Franklin County.
As for the future, McCutcheon said, his firm sees four different paths the department could go down:
• Option 1: Maintain status quo with no additional stations added.
• Option 2: Maintain current stations while adding an inspector position.
• Option 3: Add an additional fire station near the intersection of Phoenix Center Drive and Vernaci Drive.
• Option 4: Add an additional fire station at that intersection and add an inspector position in the department.
He strongly urged the council consider a part-time fire inspector.
Current Fire Chief Tim Frankenberg said he feels that the report is accurate and that information accuracy and collection needs to improve at the department.
The report also suggested the department keep an eye on the amount of volunteers with the department. While Washington has an outstanding volunteer rate, Frankenberg agreed with McCutcheon that keeping an eye on the rate was a good idea.
“As far as manpower, we’re gaining some people,” he said. “Our volunteer basis is good but I’d love to see another 30 or 40 guys. We can use as many guys as we can get. We’re working on recruitment but the bigger piece of it is retention.”