Charlottesville City & Fire vs. CARS

Jason See writes:

The members of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad are up in arms over a recent line item budget addition proposed by the City of Charlottesville. Both the City and the Charlottesville Fire Department feel that the response times by the busiest all-volunteer rescue squad in the country are “unacceptable.” Their solution is simply to drop a million dollars of the taxpayers money to allow the Charlottesville Fire Department to transport their own patients.

Officials with the City and Fire Department were hoping to avoid any public debate so that it “would be all under the radar,” however public outcry has forced the City to create a task force to try to make amends with the volunteers.

Thoughts to chew on include:

  • If the City was so concerned with response times, why didn’t they try to work it out with CARS instead of becoming sneaky with the Fire Department?
  • Coincidence that the former chief of the department is now City Councilor?
    (wink, wink.nudge, nudge)
  • Just think what kind of recruitment and retention program CARS could create to fill the volunteer-void if the City even donated half of that chuck to them, noting that the city never pays a dime for CARS services.
  • What would the public think once the Fire Department starts running calls and charging patients for the 6 minute trip to the hospital, when CARS can do the same thing for free?

Rob Seal wrote in the Progress yesterday that an August study shows that unifying city and county fire and rescue services wouldn’t result in any savings, though neither the city nor the county would give a copy of the document to the Progress. (Which I’m not sure they’re legally allowed to withhold.) In his most recent column, Bob Gibson argued that it just doesn’t make sense to keep the services separated. Lone City Council candidate (at this point) Jennifer McKeever isn’t buying the city’s criticism of CARS. And in today’s Progress, Rob Seal and Jeremy Borden describe the area’s planned move to more and more paid rescue employees, moving from our current 91% volunteer rate to something much lower in the next few years.

CARS, to their enormous credit, publishes all of their response times to the web in real time, using Ty Hoeffer’s excellent Rescue Incident Display System. All of those calls are archived, making it trivial to look at their response times. The Albemarle County Fire Department participates in the system, too. But the Charlottesville Fire Department does not, making it impossible to provide a comparative analysis. Jason See was kind enough to go through and weed out all response to calls in the county (which skew response times upwards considerably, of course), providing me with a spreadsheet of 1,338 response times from January 1 through Tuesday. (You can download that spreadsheet, if you like.)

Here’s a histogram of how much time elapses between the call and CARS’ arrival at the scene. It’s a long-tailed normal distribution with a median of 7:29.


And here’s a stacked, filled line graph of the time that it takes to arrive at the scene (the same data as in the histogram) and the time that it takes to get the patient to the hospital, with the total indicating the entire time spent in transit. The median time to the hospital is 6:58 (just 0:31 less than the time to arrive at the scene), and the median total travel time is 13:27.

Stacked Line Graph

Also, I looked at the time elapsed from when the call is dispatched and when they’re enroute, and found that the median time elapsed is 1:56, with the great majority between one and three minutes.

Given that the standard response time for life-threatening incidents is eight minutes, it’s noteworthy that the average response time is 7% lower…and that’s including responses to a great many situations that quite likely aren’t life-threating (“sick person,” “back pain,” “childbirth,” etc.) I also have to wonder to what extent any response time problems come from traffic, which the rescue squad can’t control. I have zero experience in rescue, but I have to suspect that the only thing that’s really within their control is how long it takes them to suit up and hit the road.

12 Responses to “Charlottesville City & Fire vs. CARS”

Comments are currently closed.