Monday, March 19 , 2018, 11:18 pm | Fair 53º


Local News

County Fire Chief Reports Improved Response Times

Michael Dyer says a task force's efforts to help the department's processing of calls have made a difference

After coming under scrutiny for lagging response times, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Michael Dyer reported Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors that the department has seen significant improvements.

In February, outside consulting firm Citygate Associates outlined some of the challenges the department is facing within the larger framework of the county’s financial restraints.

Response times were among the areas they looked at, and the group found that the department reached its goal of six minutes to respond to a scene only 63 percent of the time.

A task force was formed after the report was given to the Board of Supervisors. It was made up members of the Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department as well as the Public Health Department, and the group examined the response times.

Since then, Dyer reported that response times for structure fires and EMS calls have been significantly reduced.

Call times for structure fires have decreased from about three minutes to one minute and 38 seconds, and EMS calls have gone from three minutes and 50 seconds to one minute and 30 seconds.

“It’s good, but we want to get down to that minute, and we’re still working within this task force to reduce those response times,” Dyer said, adding that focusing on improving the process of that call has helped significantly.

Communities aren’t forced to provide fire service to residents, but if they do, they must meet minimum standards. How to pay for services remains an open question as the county moves into its budget season.

Pre-Proposition 13 tax rates won’t support the current or desired level of services, according to Citygate officials, and the department has a structural deficit that will continue to grow as costs increase. The department would need $4 million per year over the next three years just to maintain current levels of service.

Citygate also said that Santa Barbara County pays a lower portion of its property taxes to fire services than other communities, and adjusting that amount may be part of this year’s budget discussions. Dyer said the department has made big strides just in the two months since the last presentation from Citygate, and not all of the recommended changes will require more money.

Of the 29 recommendations the company made, Dyer said the department can do more than half without more funding.

The department disagreed with only two of the suggestions, one of which would have added a mobile mechanic position for minor repairs and maintenance in the fire stations. Dyer said the department will continue to use the general services mechanic shared by the county instead of making a new hire.

He also took issue with the suggestion that brownouts — in which stations close for a determined period of time — happen periodically, but said stations could stay open by shifting around staff.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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