Superstition Fire shaves 1 minute off response times

Superstition Fire and Medical District and the Mesa Fire and Medical Department at an April 1 home fire at 3700 S. Ironwood Road. (SFMD)

Firefighters recently entered a burning mobile home and safely recovered a dog and a cat, with the feline being treated for smoke exposure.

The first unit arrived in four minutes to find the double-wide mobile home with smoke showing. That was under the Superstition Fire and Medical District’s optimal goal of a response time of four minutes or less, nine times out of 10, for fire and emergency medical service responses.

SFMD and the Mesa Fire and Medical Department were dispatched just after noon April 1 to the home fire at 3700 S. Ironwood Road. The fire was contained to the kitchen area, where it appears to have started, with some smoke damage spreading to adjacent rooms, Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal Richard Ochs, SFMD public information officer, said.

“Firefighters were able to control the blaze in just a few minutes and contain it to the room of origin,” he said.

The cat being treated at the side of the mobile home fire April 1. (SFMD)

“The homeowners were away at the time of the fire. However, two pets — one dog and one cat — were removed from the home by firefighters. The dog presented as unharmed, but the cat appeared to have a significant smoke exposure,” he said.

Firefighters used a Fido mask to provide a high-concentration of oxygen to the cat, he said.

“The cat tolerated this procedure for an extended amount of time, indicating that it was experiencing some effects of the smoke exposure. The animal improved greatly following the treatment and did not appear to have any other injuries,” Assistant Chief Ochs said.

The fire district has five stations and primarily covers communities in Pinal County, with mutual aid agreements with adjacent areas including in Maricopa County.

In part because it added a fire truck and personnel to a station, it shaved nearly a minute from its average emergency calls response time from 2018 compared to fiscal year 2016-17, officials said.

Fire district stations

The Superstition Fire and Medical District encompasses 62 square miles, including Apache Junction, Gold Canyon and unincorporated Pinal County.
The district provides fire suppression, fire prevention, wildland protection, advanced life support, rescue, extrication and medical transportation services out of five fire stations:

  • Fire Station 261, 1135 W. Superstition Blvd. in Apache Junction;
  • Fire Station 262, 3955 E. Superstition Blvd. in Apache Junction;
  • Fire Station 263, 1645 S. Idaho Road in Apache Junction;
  • Fire Station 264, 7557 E. U.S. Highway 60 in Gold Canyon; and
  • Fire Station 265, 9294 E. Don Donnelly Trail in Gold Canyon.

Types of calls in 2018

In 2018 the Superstition Fire and Medical District responded to 9,620 incidents, Assistant Chief Ochs said.

Total incidents by call type were:

  • Emergency medical services: 7,229
  • Service: 881
  • Good intent: 668
  • Unknown: 422
  • Fire: 176
  • False alarm: 171
  • Hazardous condition: 42
  • Special incident: 28
  • Severe weather: two
  • Overpressure/rupture: one

Superstition Fire and Medical District Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal Richard Ochs

Emergency calls are those that pose risk to a person’s health, life or property. Medical emergencies are identified by a 9-1-1 call taker when it is established that symptoms or conditions exist that suggest they are “life threatening” or “potentially life threatening,” Assistant Chief Ochs said.

“In most instances, these conditions require immediate intervention to correct the issue or to prevent worsening of the issue,” he said.

Fire incidents are identified when the 9-1-1 call taker establishes that “smoke” or “flames” are present within or outside of a structure making the situation urgent, and potentially life threatening. Other hazardous conditions are identified when the 9-1-1 call taker establishes that a life-threatening or potentially life-threatening situation exists. Examples can include — but are not limited to — hazardous materials, gas leaks (gasoline, propane or natural gas), electrical hazards, swift-water rescues, trench rescues, etc., Assistant Chief Ochs said.

Response times

Response-time goals are based upon national standards from the National Fire Protection Association 1710 standard.

“NFPA 1710 is a performance guide for career fire departments that was first released in 2001. It is a recommended ‘standard’ or ‘guideline’ to plan and assess response capabilities based on response times and on scene staffing. It is not a law, a regulation or a requirement. But it is the national standard,” Assistant Chief Ochs said.

“It is an optimized goal for fire protection and a tool for evaluating service delivery and options. SFMD has elected to follow the standard and use it to gauge its annual performances. The optimal goal is a response time of 4 minutes or less at least 90% of the time for fire and EMS responses,” he said.

The average emergency — also known as priority 1 — response times for 2018 from the fire and medical district, for emergency Incidents, was 4:38, he said.

“Our response times have improved significantly since a second engine company was added to the Fire Station 263 at 16th Avenue and Idaho Road in January of 2018,” Assistant Chief Ochs said.

Superstition Fire and Medical District average response times for the previous four fiscal years are:

  • 2016-17: 5:27.
  • 2015-16: 5:00.
  • 2014-15: 4:44.
  • 2013-14: 4:53.

Adding the engine company at station 3 — also known as 263 — was the primary factor in reducing the response times, members of the SFMD Governing Board said.

Todd House

“It all has to do with adding a second truck on station 3. It frees up other response vehicles to manage our response times,” SFMD Governing Board Chairman Todd House said.

Jason Moeller

“I believe that the additional engine at station 3 was the biggest factor in reducing response times,” Jason Moeller, SFMD Governing Board member, said.

“The additional unit made it easier for all the different fire houses to be more readily available to the community. I also believe that when the community call 9-1-1 for help the dispatch is able to send an ambulance versus a fire truck and ambulance every time,” he said.

Kathleen Chamberlain

Fire stations are located within the district in a way to provide the fastest response coverage possible in relation to the area density and number of calls generated, SFMD Governing Board member Kathleen Chamberlain said.

“If the closest station responds to a call and another call comes in within that station’s first-response area, the next closest available company responds. Since this second responding company is coming from farther away, it takes longer for them to get to the emergency. If more emergency calls come in, more companies can be responding from out of their first — perhaps even second — response areas. This domino effect significantly increases response times,” she said.

The high number of calls in Station 3’s area prompted fire administration to take a look at putting a second apparatus at this location, Ms. Chamberlain said.

“Station 3 is the busiest station in our district, thus the station most likely to have a second call come into their coverage area while their crew is already out responding to a call,” she said.

“Criteria such as reducing the number of times other stations had to travel into Station 3’s area, creating longer response times across the district and the stress on staff at a station where so many calls left little recovery time for the emergency responders, creating a higher percentage of sick usage and employee injury potential, were considered, monitored and evaluated,” she said.

“Though it may seem to be an easy fix, the challenge to having a second apparatus is justifying the finances to support the personnel and equipment for the number of runs received in a station’s response area, while remaining fiscally responsible with the budget. Hiring additional personnel was not within the budget’s capabilities. Administration chose to put a second apparatus in service at Station 3 by reassigning select personnel from non-emergency response positions to cover the staffing of this second apparatus,” she said.

Jeff Cross

The addition of the engine company helped the fire district lower its Insurance Service Office public protection classification rating to class 2, Jeff Cross, SFMD Governing Board member, said.

“This added unit was pushed by Chief (Mike) Farber and supported by the board and labor. The addition of this unit also aided in the district to successfully lower our ISO rating from a 3 down to a 2, which will save every homeowner on their insurance rates,” he said.

The ISO gathers information about municipal fire protection in communities all across the U.S. In each community, ISO staff analyze data and assign a public protection classification number between 1 and 10. Superior fire protection is represented by a class 1 rating and a class 10 indicates that an area’s fire-suppression program is not meeting the minimum criteria set forth by ISO, according to a fire district release.

“The ISO recently completed a detailed analysis of the fire suppression delivery system that SFMD provides to the community. The findings resulted in an exemplary class 2 rating, placing SFMD in the top 4% of all fire departments in the country,” Assistant Chief Ochs said in the release.

Fire district personnel

The fire district has 136 employees. Below is a breakdown of civilian staff employees by job classification:

  • One administrative services director
  • One administrative assistant II
  • Two account clerk specialist
  • One finance director
  • One human resources generalist
  • One software administrator and IT specialist
  • One fleet and facilities support specialist
  • One fleet supervisor
  • One fire mechanic I
  • Two fire mechanic II
  • One community risk reduction specialist
  • One emergency medical services coordinator
  • One transportation services manager
  • 14 transportation personnel (emergency medical technicians)
  • 14 transportation personnel (paramedics)

Among the fire district’s captains, engineers and firefighters, 39 are emergency medical technicians and 54 are paramedics. Below is a breakdown of sworn public-safety staff employees by job classification.

  • One fire chief
  • Two assistant chiefs
  • One deputy chief
  • Three battalion chiefs
  • 22 fire captains
  • 18 fire engineers
  • 46 firefighters

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at

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