By Rachel Brown Hackney
Out of the 63,426 incidents countywide last year to which Sarasota County Fire Department vehicles rolled, Siesta Key’s Fire Station No. 13 handled 1,520.
That was just one of multiple statistics Fire Chief Michael Regnier provided members of the Siesta Key Condominium Council during their Feb. 19 meeting.
The month with the fewest calls was September, which had a total of 82, a chart showed. March and July were tied for the months with the highest number: 172.
The mean response time was 5.9 minutes, Regnier told the audience. “Six minutes seems like an eternity,” he acknowledged. “We know that.” Still, pointing to the answers the department has received to a survey it sends out after incidents, he said, “We have [about] a 99% satisfaction rate, which I’m very proud of.”
Of all the calls on Siesta in 2018, 1,212 were EMS-related, according to the statistics Regnier provided audience members. That meant only 308 of the total involved fire calls. Of the latter, 128 were related to alarms, the handout said.
The department reported six swimming/recreational water rescues and seven watercraft rescues off Siesta in 2018; another 18 calls requested rescues of people trapped in elevators, the report showed.
During the Condominium Council meeting, Regnier also took the opportunity to talk about an initiative underway that could increase the efficiency of the Fire Department without its having to add personnel, which it costs taxpayers money, he noted.
If a person calls 911 today for a medical problem, Regnier explained, “We’re going to respond with red lights and siren.” A unit is required to head out on a call within 25 seconds, he continued. However, that often does not give the 911 dispatcher sufficient time to determine details about the reason for the call. While a rescue unit is in transit, Regnier said, the dispatcher continues to ask the caller questions. In some cases, he noted, a modification to the response is appropriate.
For example, Regnier said, an older person who fell the previous day might not have had enough discomfort to seek medical help then. However, by the following day, the person is having difficulty standing. If that person is alone, the person might call 911 for a rescue unit. An ambulance would respond and take the person to a medical center, Regnier continued. However, he pointed out, that is not an emergency.
Regnier has been talking with County Administrator Jonathan Lewis about adding 10 to 15 seconds to that 25-second response time. That would allow a dispatcher to determine whether an ambulance needs to be dispatched more quickly or perhaps not at all, he said. A fire truck might be the more appropriate vehicle to send, Regnier explained.
“It’s very important to know that [information],” he added.
As he did last year, Regnier also pointed out to the Condominium Council audience that the same type of medical equipment that is on every county ambulance is also on every county fire truck, and the crews are cross-trained: Firefighters can handle medical emergencies, and Emergency Medical Service crew members can fight fires.
The only thing a fire truck cannot do, of course, he said, is transport a person to a hospital.
Additionally, Regnier told the audience that the Fire Department uses a system that can control the traffic signals when units are being dispatched to an emergency. A crew can turn all the lights green in the direction of travel. “So that helps us tremendously on the responses to the island if you call 911.”
Crews also are able to contact the drawbridge tender in an emergency, Regnier said, to ensure a bridge will not go up as a Fire Department or EMS vehicle is on approach to the island.
As he wrapped up his remarks, Regnier said, “I’ve been here 30 years. … This fire service is — I can tell you — second to none. I look all over the nation.”