The most widely used response time standard in the United States is the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1710 which requires “the arrival of an ALS (Advanced Life Support) company within an eight-minute response time to 90% of incidents.” This standard resulted from a 1970s cardiac arrest survival study by two Seattle physicians.
Response Time is a Sum of its Parts
Although the specifics of response time standards vary widely, the total response time can be split into three phases:
Dispatch – This is the time elapsed from when an emergency call is received, entered and the rescue unit is notified.
Turnout – The time when the rescue unit is notified by an alarm and begin travel time.
Travel time – The time from when the responding unit is en route (traveling) to their arrival on scene.
How can response times be reduced?
Due to the sheer number of variables such as whether there is access to modern EMS/Fire systems or not, regulations and laws, rural/urban areas, economics, topography and weather conditions, there is no one simple answer to reducing response time. However, addressing identified issues is critical to ensuring the safety of the community when dangerous situations arise.
Dispatch time can be affected by poor training of dispatchers unaware of the closest rescue units wasting precious minutes or if there are no mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns.
In this phase, the time saving potential is all about how the dispatcher identifies the location, the exact nature of the incident, and notifying the appropriate unit accordingly. In this case, modern technology can contribute to reducing dispatch time with timely access to pertinent information.
Turnout time reduction is about the human factor – awareness and behavior. Constant training and drills, unit routines and attitudes affect the reaction time from notification to leaving the station en route to the incident scene.
Travel time can be affected in numerous ways and for many reasons. The universal factor affecting travel time is heavy traffic whether it be a highway accident or slow-moving livestock on a rural road. Also, remote rural areas can affect travel time due to long distances to the incident scene.
Driving fast may be the most intuitive way to reduce travel time, however, it may not be the best idea since high speed could increase the risk of causing an accident. Also, driving fast in extreme winter weather conditions is never a good idea.
Response Times in Winter Weather Conditions
Despite all the advances in technology, sometimes common sense and the correct tools for the situation are all you need to do your job.
On slippery roads, simple tire chains could be the most effective tool for making your way. Further, using automatic tire chains to avoid manual mounting time could be the key to saving critical response time – and possibly lives – at a fraction of the cost. Also, the driver will not be at risk outside of the vehicle because he/she can engage from inside the cab.
At the end of the day, responding to an emergency is about arriving at the scene safely and on time. Icy, snowy roads may keep most people safely in their homes, but first responders are duty bound to respond no matter the weather conditions.