Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

New NCFPD response standards classify Fallbrook and Bonsall as suburban

The National Fire Protection Association has response time standards based on population density and a community's expectations. Although density would classify Fallbrook and Bonsall as urban areas, the road network which affects travel time is more appropriate for a suburban area and the Dec. 12 North County Fire Protection District board meeting included adopting an updated Effective Response Force Standard which classifies Fallbrook and Bonsall as suburban.

The board’s 5-0 vote adopted the standard which increases the travel time response standard to 6 1/2 minutes for Fallbrook and Bonsall while retaining the rural designation and a 13-minute travel time standard for Rainbow and for other areas east of Interstate 15.

“It was more reflective of our fire district,” said NCFPD Fire Chief Keith McReynolds.

The total response time consists of three measurements. Call processing time is the time elapsed between when the communication center receives the call and when the information is processed and given to the first responding units. Turnout time is the time between when the station personnel receive the call and when they leave the station.

Travel time is how long it takes to drive to the incident location. All three of those response measurements have standards which are supposed to be met at least 90% of the time. The standard is one minute for the call processing time and two minutes for the turnout time. The travel time standard varies based on population density and a community's expectations.

“The performance benchmark is where we’d like to go,” McReynolds said.

The January 2019 NCFPD board meeting included adopting new response time standards for North County Fire Protection District emergency calls. The district set standards of nine minutes for urban areas, 13 minutes for suburban areas, and 18 minutes for outlying response areas while targeting 90% of all responses to be within those standards.

The standards defined urban as more than 500 people per square mile, suburban as 100 to 500 people per square mile, and outlying as fewer than 100 people per square mile. At that time, the 90th percentile for the first arriving unit was 8:48 for urban areas, 10:41 for suburban areas, and 16:20 for outlying areas.

The fire district provides Advanced Life Support services and has an exclusive operating area contract to provide ambulance service. The contract stipulates that the fire district must respond to emergency incidents in the urban population zones within 10 minutes and to incidents in rural or suburban population zones within 15 minutes. The contract does not stipulate a response time for outlying population areas.

In December 2017, the county Board of Supervisors approved an implementation plan to improve emergency medical services in the unincorporated county's backcountry which included emergency medical service boundary adjustments and a unified service area intended to update response time standards to reflect population patterns and integration.

The ambulance response time standards for calls are 10 minutes for urban areas, although if a fire agency paramedic arrives within eight minutes, the ambulance response time is 12 minutes, 16 minutes for rural areas (20 minutes for ambulance arrival if a fire agency paramedic arrives within 15 minutes), and 25 minutes for outlying areas (30 minutes if a paramedic arrives within 23 minutes).

An exclusive operating area contract with a 15-minute response standard for rural and suburban areas would supersede the 16-minute unified response area standard.

DeLuz is not part of the San Diego County Fire Protection District, but NCFPD ambulances are often sent for DeLuz medical needs. The eastern part of DeLuz has a rural zone classification under the county's plan while the western part of DeLuz is an outlying zone.

If the North County Fire Protection District receives a call for medical service in DeLuz, the ambulance from Station 1 on Ivy Street is dispatched if it is available. Including the trip to the hospital, a call for service in DeLuz places an ambulance out of service for other needs for approximately two hours. Approximately 50% of NCFPD calls for medical service are in the area which would be served by the Station 1 ambulance if it is available.

In August 2021, the NCFPD board awarded Matrix Consulting Group, which is headquartered in San Mateo and has an office in Irvine, a contract to develop the district's long-range master and strategic plan.

The August 2022 NCFPD board meeting included adoption of the three-year to five-year strategic plan. The goals included improving the concentration of resources to create an effective response force for the various types of calls for service in the fire district, and that goal’s objective was to define and establish an effective response force performance objective based on nationally accepted best practice for the risks identified in the district.

Matrix and NCFPD staff collaborated to develop the Effective Response Force Standard which incorporates the locations and assigned apparatus of the district’s five fire stations along with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Vista Fire Department response partners.

Between 2018 and 2021, the 90th percentile turnout time over the four-year period was 1:34 for medical calls and 1:49 for fire suppression calls. There were no structural fire calls in Rainbow during those four years, but the response standard travel times of 6 1/2 minutes for the first unit and 10 1/2 minutes for an effective response force were not met in Fallbrook or Bonsall.

The 159 first unit calls in Fallbrook had a 90th percentile travel time of 9:06 with only 62.3% of the calls meeting the 6 1/2-minute standard while the 24 first unit calls for Bonsall structure fires had a 90th percentile of 10:16 with 50.0% meeting the 6 1/2-minute standard.

The first unit is capable of conducting an incident size-up, establishing command, requesting additional resources, assigning incoming resources, securing a water supply, providing 500 gallons of water and 1,500 gallons per minute (gpm) pumping capacity, and initiating rescue or fire attacks.

The effective response force is capable of providing 4,500 gpm pumping capability, advancing an attack line and a backup line for fire control, establishing a rapid intervention crew, completing forcible entry, searching, removing

victims from harm, providing medical care for the injured, ventilating the structure, securing utilities, and performing salvage and overhaul.

Only 4% of structural fire calls for both areas met the 10 1/2‑minute effective response force standard; the 90th percentile travel times were 26:40 for the 25 Fallbrook calls requiring an additional unit and 24:42 for the six Bonsall calls requiring additional support. For all emergency calls, the total 90th percentile response time including travel was 11:50 for Fallbrook, 11:45 for Bonsall, and 14:37 for Rainbow with 90th percentile travel times of 9:23 for Fallbrook, 9:25 for Bonsall, and 13:11 for Rainbow.

“Fallbrook and Bonsall really shouldn’t be urban,” McReynolds said. “The road network doesn’t really support that.”

The reclassification of Fallbrook and Bonsall from urban to suburban isn’t the only likely effect of the Effective Response Force Standard report. “We’re going to use it as a guiding document to drive future district staffing and to drive future fire station construction,” McReynolds said.

“As the region continues to grow we’ve got to expand our fire district and keep up with our current and future call volume,” McReynolds said. “We want our response time to be better in the district.”

On May 23, the NCFPD board adopted a District Facilities Replacement Plan which calls for revisions to the plan every three years to ensure relevance to project timelines as needs and revenue change.

Industry guidelines set the optimal useful life of a fire station at 50 years. Station 1 was built in 1962; Station 2 on Winterwarm Drive was constructed in 1963; the Station 3 building precedes the 1986 merger of the Fallbrook Fire Protection District with the county service area responsible for fire protection in Rainbow; Station 4 in Pala Mesa is a modular building which dates back to 1979, and the new Station 5 on Olive Hill Road was completed in 2014. Replacements for Station 3 and Station 4 are in the design phase.

“The long-term plan would be to add a Station 6 and to move Station 2,” McReynolds said.

The replacement of Station 2 thus likely wouldn’t be at its current location. “We do want to add a station down in the area of Reche Road,” McReynolds said.

Station 6 would preferably be along South Mission Road. “That will help us reach some of these structures that we’ve identified for the future,” McReynolds said.

Author Bio

Joe Naiman, Writer

Joe Naiman has been writing for the Village News since 2001


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