10 Extra Reasons Why Naperville Fire Department’s “Rescue Vehicle Program” Is a Great Idea

Last week Naperville Fire Department started an innovative program to more effectively and efficiently respond to certain types of emergency calls in the city. Two agile rescue vehicles with lower fuel costs were implemented to respond specifically to emergencies that don’t require an ambulance and/or a fire engine, while additionally responding to emergencies that do require a fire engine or ambulance. When staffing allows, each rescue vehicle will be staffed by one firefighter or firefighter/paramedic trained to respond to non-emergency calls, such as carbon monoxide calls where no illness is reported, elevator alarms where no one is trapped, malfunctioning fire alarms and open burning complaints.

The cost effective program makes a lot sense in improved functional performance of the fire department and in cost savings. Some may criticize the program for its potential to under-respond to certain emergencies, but with proper training and awareness of dispatchers and command staff, the risk of under-responding will be reduced.

9-1-1 calls from the public often fail to properly identify the exact emergency. For example, crashes with airbag smoke are often reported as crashes with car fires. When there may be doubt about the urgency of a particular emergency, the response would require preparedness for the worse. This type of call would still have to be met with a fire suppression vehicle — a fire engine or ladder truck and an ambulance. From the experience of dispatchers and firefighters, the majority of emergency calls that are severe emergencies are recognized and responded with a full complement.

That leaves a number of fire department calls in suburbs — often at fire-resistive commercial buildings — with incidents that don’t require two fire engines, a ladder truck, a rescue squad and a Battalion Chief to respond. Naperville Fire Department has apparently identified those calls — non-emergency calls, such calls from elevator phones with no voices heard, malfunctioning fire alarms, carbon monoxide detector activations with no illness. Fire departments in the northwest suburbs do a good job of calling off the full complement of response, but Naperville has taken efficiency to the next level. Note: Some area fire departments have dabbled with the concept, especially in sub-freezing temperatures to minimize exposure of fire engine water systems to freezing.

Here are ten extra situations where the Rescue Vehicle Program in Naperville and other communities might prove especially successful.

1. False alarm from an elevator phone in a parking garage: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle design could be specified to be able to drive into the parking garage. If low profile, the vehicle could be driven to patient contact to allow rapid check whether a victim is down on the elevator floor. Traffic at street level is not congested by a fire engine blocking a lane of traffic. Fire engines and ambulances don’t fit in parking garage decks. In an emergency, the pickup truck/rescue vehicle could also make faster access to a report of a person down anywhere on the floors or ramps of a parking garage, which could bring an AED to a patient more quickly than running up stairs, riding an elevator or running across the parking garage deck.

2. Second personal injury crash a block down from the first crash: Pickup truck rescue vehicle with one or two personnel is able take a quick ride down to the second crash and evaluate without taking a full engine crew away from the first scene. If there are no injuries at the second crash, firefighters call off the second ambulance responding from out of district, which keeps that district better protected and saves fuel costs.

3. Carbon monoxide detector sends a false signal at an apartment complex at remote location at the far end of town while a fire breaks out in the center of town: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle evaluates and resets the false alarm and responds for additional staffing to the fire. No fire engines delayed because they weren’t sent to the remote location.

Arlington Heights Fire Department temporarily put a Ford pickup truck to use for call responses the night of a blizzard in February 2011. The most important use involved pulling an ambulance out of the snow while a patient was inside the ambulance. The ambulance became stuck while en route to Northwest Community Hospital. The pickup truck was then used to pull out the Rescue Squad, which was also stuck.

4. In deep, heavy snow and blizzard conditions a false fire alarm signal at an apartment: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle with 4-wheel drive responds and evaluates and/or resets alarm — doesn’t get stuck in snow, which is possible with a rescue squad or fire engine.

5. In deep, heavy snow and blizzard conditions a man collapses while shoveling snow: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle with 4-wheel drive, an AED, and a medical bag arrives more quickly than an ambulance or rescue squad.

6. In deep, heavy snow and blizzard conditions, an ambulance gets stuck in the snow with a patient inside: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle hooks up a tow line and pulls ambulance to freedom, and ambulance proceeds to hospital with pickup truck/rescue vehicle following in case the ambulance gets stuck again.

7. Multiple downed power lines with arcing reported: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle responds to check for hazards. Fire engine crews can’t put water directly on a downed power line anyway, but the pickup truck/rescue vehicle personnel can evaluate the scene and call in an engine if any type of remote fire suppression is needed for a secondary fire.

8. Man down in a forest preserve on a trail: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle can more rapidly access the victim with a stokes basket pulled off the fire engine or ladder truck, which can’t drive to the off-road scene.

9. Maintenance: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle over the years responds to more calls instead of more expensive ambulances, fire engines, ladder trucks with higher maintenance costs. Less chance of expensive maintenance, and less chance that a critical vehicle is down and out of service when it is needed.

10. Fuel Costs: Pickup truck/rescue vehicle uses less fuel, saves money, saves energy, and pollutes less.

Personnel in the chain of command in government public safety organizations sometimes complain that there is no innovation, and that there is a general fear to be the first to try a new procedure — or a new way to do things. Congratulations to Naperville Fire Department for your step toward innovation.

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