Janesville61°

Time is critical factor in case of emergencies

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Ann Fiore
November 4, 2007
— Four minutes can be a magic number when you’re having a heart attack or other emergency.

If you’re medically treated within that time, you stand a much better chance of survival.


If your heart stops, brain damage can occur within 4 to 6 minutes, and brain death after 10 minutes, said firefighter/paramedic Kent Shea.


“The quicker we get on the scene, the more we can do,” said Janesville Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jensen.


Fire Chief Larry Grorud has a goal for the city’s five fire stations: to respond to emergencies within 4 minutes 80 percent of the time. By last count, ambulances reached their destinations within 4 minutes 69 percent of the time, and fire engines met the goal 75 percent of the time.


“As the city has grown, we’ve been unable to meet that,” Grorud said.


The location of Fire Station No. 1 is one of the reasons, Grorud believes.


The main fire station, 303 Milton Ave., was centrally located when it was built in 1957. But population growth on the city’s north and east sides has created a few areas where response times exceed 4 minutes.


Stations 1, 2 and 3 also overlap coverage areas. The lack of balance with Stations 4 and 5 means a second ambulance has to travel farther to back up those stations in an emergency.


Grorud and city staff have discussed relocating Station No. 1 to the East Racine Street corridor, possibly between Main Street and Palmer Drive.


Potential sites could be forwarded to the council early next year, Grorud said.


Finding a new site for a fire station is a delicate process. It depends on finding the best distance between stations, call volume, streets, speed limits and the cost to buy property, said Shea, who is helping with the project.


Station No. 1’s new location also must balance with a future sixth fire station, Shea said.


Relocating the main station and its administrative offices would cost about $4 million.


The more expensive alternative, Grorud said, is to build a sixth fire station sooner for $1.5 million to $2 million, remodel Station No. 1, and staff the new station at $500,000 for the first year and $750,000 each year after that.


City Manager Steve Sheiffer has proposed that the city borrow $1 million in 2008 for the first phase of the fire station project.


The other problem with Station No. 1 is crowding.


The main station now houses as many administrators as it did firefighters in 1957. Office desks sit where ambulance crews used to sleep, and the former shift commander’s bathroom now contains Grorud’s desk instead of a toilet.


Firefighters have little recreational space to themselves. The kitchen and dining room are spacious, but they double as a conference room. No separate dorms are available for men and women. Workout equipment shares the basement with the rescue boat.


Crowded conditions can compromise safety, Grorud said. Because the station is landlocked, returning engines must hold up traffic as they back into the bays. Impatient drivers sometimes run into the rigs, Grorud said, and firefighters who have tried to direct traffic have nearly become accident statistics themselves.


Limited space in the bays also makes it hard to store equipment that should be at the main station. Station No. 4 stores the hazardous materials trailer, and a technical rescue trailer has a temporary home at Station No. 3.


When the equipment is needed, firefighters gather at Station No. 1 and must make arrangements to meet up with the equipment.


“It does compromise our response time a little bit when we’re not centrally located,” Grorud said.


Station No. 1’s move has been in the plans since 1995, Grorud said. Since then, the city has built its fifth fire station and added two ambulances.


The earliest Station No. 1 could be moved is 2009.


WHAT IS RESPONSE TIME?

Timing is critical in any emergency situation. The more quickly firefighters respond, the better their chance of saving lives—including their own.


When firefighters talk about a four-minute response time, that usually refers to the time they need to drive to the scene. However, the overall response time also includes the time it takes for someone to dial 911 and speak to the dispatcher. The dispatcher then dispatches the call. The tone sounds in the fire station, and the firefighters get dressed, consult their map and get on their way.


After arriving, they must ready their equipment and find the patient.


All the while, the clock is ticking.


JANESVILLE FIRE STATIONS

Fire Station No. 1


Address: 303 Milton Ave.


Built: 1957. Modified in 2005 to add restroom and shower for female firefighters.


Ambulance: Yes


Fire Station No. 2


Address: 1545 S. Washington St.


Built: 1957 on Racine Street near Center Avenue. Moved to 1545 S. Washington St. in 1997.


Ambulance: Yes


Fire Station No. 3


Address: 435 N. Crosby Ave.


Built: 1970. Remodeled in 2002 to add drive-through bays, as well as showers and restrooms for female firefighters.


Ambulance: No


Fire Station No. 4


Address: 4117 E. Milwaukee St.


Built: 1979.


Ambulance: Yes


Fire Station No. 5


Address: 1414 Newport Ave.


Built: 1997.


Ambulance: Yes


THE FUTURE

Besides relocating Fire Station No. 1, the Janesville Fire Department foresees other needs and projects in the future. They include:


-- Adding a fifth ambulance. All of Janesville’s fire stations have ambulances except for Station No. 3 on the west side.


At No. 3, the responding engine has a paramedic riding along, but patients can’t be transported to a hospital until an ambulance arrives, said Fire Chief Larry Grorud.


The fire department responds to nearly 5,000 ambulance calls per year using four ambulances. Their ability to cover the city could be compromised when calls come in simultaneously or a major accident requires several ambulances, Grorud said.


“It’s not unusual to see times in the day when three or four ambulances are out on calls,” he said.


Grorud estimates that handling 20 to 25 percent more calls per year would require a fifth ambulance.


-- Move Station No. 5 farther north to serve new subdivisions under construction north of Janesville, or build a sixth fire station.


WHEN RESPONSE TIME MATTERS

Firefighters gave these examples to show how a quick response helped—or could have helped—save lives:


-- Sept. 12 car accident at Wright Road and Wuthering Hills Drive that killed a Janesville woman. The crash happened near Station No. 4, and paramedics reached the scene soon afterward.


“This situation easily could’ve had more than one fatality,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jensen.


-- A house fire reported within blocks of old Fire Station No. 2 on West Racine Street. Firefighters arrived and pulled out twin boys, who apparently had tried to cook batteries in the microwave.


“That thing was rolling,” Jensen said of the blaze. “…A little bit more time, and we would’ve had a couple of dead kids instead of a couple of saves.”


-- A fire burning in a building next to the Olde Towne Mall at 20 S. Main St. Firefighters from Station No. 1 used a ladder to rescue a woman trapped on an upper floor. The woman had no chance of escape through the building, and jumping would have severely injured or killed her.


-- “I need help.” That’s all the woman in the wheelchair would say. She had pushed her Life Alert button, and a company employee had called to see what was wrong.


Her mobile home was on Falling Creek Circle on the city’s far southwest side. It took firefighter/paramedic Kent Shea and his partner eight minutes to reach it in their ambulance. When they saw smoke, they radioed for an engine.


The two threw on their gear and broke down the door. The woman was slumped against it, and the kitchen was ablaze. The woman had no pulse.


Police helped them get her into the ambulance and start treatment. The fire engine arrived nine minutes later.


The woman, who died of smoke inhalation, had been warned about the danger of smoking near her oxygen tank, Shea said. Because she hadn’t explained what was wrong, Life Alert had spent several minutes trying to call her family before dialing 911.



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