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County Fire Response Times Beat National Average


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By Kevin O’Rourke

Ever growing congestion and increasing development in the county are placing some strain on the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s (MCFRS) ability to save lives and property. While response times remain faster than the national standard, the department’s ability to contain structure fires fell slightly, according to its annual performance review.

On July 30, Fire Chief Steve Lohr released the department’s Performance Review for FY13, which ended on June 30, 2014. The report includes statistics such as countywide response times for structure fires, emergency medical service (EMS) response times, and staffing and promotion policies, with details surrounding the department’s community outreach programs.

The county response times were under the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) minimum response times, according to the FY13 Performance Review. Both the MCFRS report and the NFPA break down response times based on population density. However, there are slight differences in the way the areas are distinguished.

Areas with 1,000 or more people per square mile — which covers most of the Germantown area — should have a standard response time of under nine minutes, according to the NFPA. The MCFRS report says that 90 percent of structure fires, in what it defined as “Metropolitan areas”, had response times of eight minutes and 20 seconds. The MCFRS characterizes Germantown as a Metropolitan zone, with more than 3,000 people per square mile. Unfortunately, there are no comparison numbers from previous years.

It is important to remember that the statistics in the report include all of Montgomery County, not just the Germantown area. However, the Germantown Pulse has broken out the numbers that include the Germantown area. Most of the down-county area — Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, and Gaithersburg — also fall into the Metropolitan zone.

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Response times are broken in to three sections: 1) the time it takes for someone to detect the fire and call 911, 2) the time it takes a 911 operator to answer and dispatch the fire units, and 3) the travel time from station to fire location.

According to the report, factors that are limiting response times for structure fires include the time it takes to process the call, which is taking longer than the established national standard, as well as increased travel times which are often impacted by weather, traffic or a response route with a number or traffic-calming devices, such as speed bumps.

The report also points out that the Insurance Services Office, Inc., which collects information about municipal fire protection efforts in communities throughout the United States, and is the leading supplier of statistical, actuarial and underwriting information to insurance companies, fire departments, insurance regulators and others, “has recommended 17 additional fire stations in urbanized areas of the Montgomery County,” according to the MCFRS Performan