Citing the fire department’s burgeoning demand for services — including approximately 70 percent emergency response activity — Fire Chief Steve Bass called on the City Council at its Jan. 7 meeting to add three fire captain positions in its next fiscal year budget.
The three positions would be for focused emergency medical services (EMS) managers.
Bass and two other fire officials made presentations that showed a city whose growth was putting a strain on a department that had not added additional personnel in a decade.
“In some areas our ship is springing leaks and we are running out of fingers to put in the holes,” Bass told Mayor William D. Tate and the City Council.
The presentation was for informational purposes only so that the city could be armed with pertinent information when the budget process begins in the summer. After being finalized, the budget would be effective Oct 1. Bass said when it is approved, his staff would “start implementing.”
“I suspect and maybe even hope that you have grown accustomed to hearing me state the need for additional staffing in the fire department when I have the opportunity to visit with you,” Bass said. “We very much need to add staffing to various areas of our department as I have stated in previous presentations and as was borne out by the citywide staffing study that was submitted to you last year.”
Bass pointed out that with the economy improving and the city moving forward financially, it would be a good time to address the staffing needs “in a way that perhaps has not been possible in the previous few years.”
His major focus was the emergency medical services or EMS component of the department, saying “it represents approximately 70 percent and growing of our total emergency response activity and probably a higher percentage of our daily routine activities such as training, administrative activities, regulatory concerns and overall management attention and also because the area of EMS management is our most critical staffing need.”
Bass noted that the city “has been and continues to be tremendously successful in attracting people, events, venues and business to this city.”
And while that is an admirable effort, he said, the city’s success has led to more calls to the fire department.
“The fire department’s primary part on this team is to care for and serve in various capacities, each one of these literally millions of visitors who come here annually as well as close to 50,000 residents when they have an emergency,” the fire chief said. “The only reason we are here is to serve the people in this community whether residents, visitors or those simply passing through. We take this responsibility extremely seriously because public safety is extremely serious.”
Bass pointed out that the city is not immune to the news of the day that is reported across the nation — news that is increasingly filled with “tragic occurrences such as mass shootings, public venue bombings, the threat of terrorism and more.”
Another factor is their increase in calls, he said. Baby boomers — the largest single population group — are reaching retirement age and requiring more medical services, including emergency services. Also, more senior care facilities are being built and more and more people are moving to Texas and to the area.
“More people are visiting and traveling through Grapevine than ever before,” Bass said. “People and these demographics drive the business and the demands of public safety, and we are continuously seeing more people bringing more EMS demands. And this will continue, most likely, for the foreseeable future.”
Three fire captains who would focus on EMS services would lighten the load, he said.
“I say all of this to emphasize that EMS and indeed all fire services in this city will not stay the same in terms of service demands, size, delivery models or expectations,” Bass said. “We must not only be able to meet the demands that growth, change, external influences and community expectation have already placed on the city, but the demands that will only increase with time.”
Bass provided statistics, including noting that the last time the fire department added operational personnel — meaning fire and EMS providers — was 10 years ago.
Since that time, he said, they have added more than 10 million square feet of commercial property; 11 apartment complexes — many of which are three to four stories in height; more than 2,500 hotel rooms; 15 highrise buildings — buildings four or more floors in height; and five senior assistance living facilities. There has been a 20 percent increase in traffic counts and millions of people visiting the city annually.
Bass said each of those items represents success stories for this city.
“Each also represents a significantly increased service demand on our department as evidenced by the fact that during this same time frame our emergency responses have increased over 100 percent,” the fire chief said. “Our service is sufficiently provided only by having sufficient people available. Certain tasks must be accomplished at each emergency and many of these tasks are, to say the least, very time critical. The more quickly they are accomplished, the better the outcome. The more slowly, then the opposite is true. The stakes are extremely high, to say the least.”
Bass provided a primer on the city’s EMS coverage, noting that the department has operated the city EMS service for more than 35 years. There has never been a focused EMS management position in the department during that time.
“In other words, we are operating with the same degree of EMS management that we had when we started the system in the 1970’s,” Bass said.
He presented history that included the “conservative” estimate that EMS represents conservatively 70 percent of the department’s total activity.
It is also responsible for approximately $1.4 million in revenue per year.
Adding to the need for more EMS personnel, Bass said, is that that operation is “the most complex and heavily regulated activity we undertake; the most liability prone activity we conduct; the greatest opportunity we have to interact with the community in proactive; the greatest opportunity for new revenue as well as new areas of community; and the activity that has the most unknowns facing us in the future.”
Bass’s proposal would be to add three EMS managers at the captain rank — one to each shift.
Duties would include providing administrative support for EMS; management focus in visioning and proactively addressing the future of the service to the best benefit of the community and the city; front line supervision of firefighter/paramedics operating in their EMS capacities; support to all department EMS providers; specialized focus and professional oversight of all aspects of EMS in the fire department; augmentation to field commanders in significant EMS emergency incidents; and safety support for all significant emergency scene operations.
Bass ended his presentation by saying, “I am irresponsible if I don’t provide you with the good news as well as the more difficult news.”
Deputy Fire Chief Mark Ashmead presented the City Council with statistics to bolster needs for additional staffing.
For the last fiscal year, fire apparatus responded to 5,156 incidents. Ambulances responded to 3,549 calls And of those incidents they transported 2,559 people to area hospitals with 2,100 taken to Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine.
Response time to emergency incidents was an average of 4 minutes and 50 seconds, a five percent reduction from the previous year.
The breakdown of medical conditions included 1,110 medical emergencies; more than 500 motor vehicle accidents; 200 patients with cardiac problems with 27 in cardiac arrest; 134 injured persons; 50 diabetic emergencies; 28 assaults; 26 suicide attempts; 24 allergic reactions; and four gunshot wounds.
Last year, they treated patients from 10 days old to 112 years old. More than 500 patients were over the age of 80 and 500 were under the age of 14.
“Our firefighters are our resident experts on everything from whooping cough to water heaters,” Ashmead said.
Half of the 3,500 patients treated last year were not Grapevine residents, the deputy fire chief said.
“They came from 35 different states and several different countries,” Ashmead said.
They made calls to every hotel in the city, 64 restaurants, more than 300 local businesses and 23 entertainment venues. Paramedics treated 85 people at Grapevine Mills mall, 50 on historic Main Street and approximately 50 around Lake Grapevine.
“We respect the fact that we may be the only contact these visitors have with city employees when in Grapevine,” Ashmead said.
Deputy Fire Chief Darrell Brown offered a presentation on EMS services, its challenges and future considerations.
At the end, he said, “The future of EMS in the Grapevine Fire Department is going to change and we must be ready — on the proactive side rather than being the ones told to comply. All of this does not happen without the proper staff to manage these changes.”