Pearland Fire Department grapples with emergency response times as population continues to boom

PFD grapples with growth, emergency response times

PFD grapples with growth, emergency response times

Every minute counts when first responders at the Pearland Fire Department race to the scene of a life-threatening emergency.




PFD June 2017 lead 2 staffing up The city of Pearland has increased its fire fighting recruitment over the past several years.[/caption]

But no situation is as physically and mentally taxing as that of an active fire. Without a quick response, victims can burn to death or suffocate from smoke inhalation. Brain cells begin to die without oxygen, which can lead to potentially irreversible brain damage and death, according to the National Fire Protection Association.


While Pearland has enjoyed rapid development, the Pearland Fire Department has struggled to keep pace with that growth.


The department expects it will need at least 70 more firefighters with paramedic certifications in the next six years and three more active  fire stations to respond to emergencies­, such as fire, emergency medical and hazardous materials calls.


In an effort to improve response times and save lives, the results of a six-month commissioned study of the PFD was released outlining staffing needs and operational areas of improvement.


“The city for many years had an exponential growth rate, but the fire and EMS departments didn’t have those same growth rates. That was recognized seven years ago, and since then, as funds have been available, we’ve added more fire stations and more personnel in an attempt to catch up with that growth,” PFD Fire Chief Vance Riley said.


The report concluded the city “does not have adequate fire station coverage.”


Polishing response timesPFD grapples with growth, emergency response times


The city of Pearland’s population has skyrocketed from roughly 38,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, to nearly 120,000 as of January, according to city estimates.


While the city has grown, the number of fires has remained relatively stable. However, fires  still account for the most dollars lost of all emergencies.


Fires only made up 2.57 percent of all incidents, or 253 calls, the PFD responded to in 2016, according to a department report but caused more than $5 million in estimated damages.


Rescue and emergency medical services made up 70 percent of calls in 2016. EMS calls have ticked up in the last few years, rising from 6,643 in 2014 to 6,814 in 2016. The city of Pearland consolidated its EMS and fire departments in 2013, and joint record keeping began in 2014, fire department officials said.


Pearland City Council commissioned an $80,000 report from Citygate Associates LLC in July 2016 to develop standards for fire protection and study the staffing needs of the fire department.


A final report with PFD recommendations was presented to City Council on April 24.


“The challenge for us is not to just keep [PFD] where it’s at, but to grow it as we get bigger and more complicated over time. That’s why we engaged with Citygate to get a roadmap to keep up and stay ahead of the demands,” Pearland City Manager Clay Pearson said.


PFD’s departmentwide response time for serious medical emergencies and small fires is 13 minutes and three seconds from the time 911 is dialed to when first responders arrive on the scene. The response is measured on a percentile system, which means that the department responds to the scene in 13 minutes and three seconds 90 percent of the time.


The recommended response time is seven minutes and 30 seconds, which includes  four minutes of travel time.Fighting Fires


“Any growing city in the western U.S. faces the same challenge as Pearland does, which is to keep all services commensurate with growth,” said Stewart Gary, public safety principal at Citygate.


Delayed emergency response was attributed in the report to community and street designs, adding the PFD cannot improve its response without adding fire stations.


Travel times alone accounts for nine to 10 minutes of the city’s 13-minute response time for first unit responders. The recommended travel time for ambulances is eight minutes, and the city’s five ambulances have travel times of 10-12 minutes, according to the 2017 Citygate report.


“The timely response is a challenge because of heavy traffic, we have a large geographic area to cover, and we don’t have enough fire stations to cover that area,” Riley said.


New stations to come


To improve fire and EMS service to residents, the city of Pearland is replacing old stations and building new ones.


Two fire stations were relocated in 2015 and 2016. A third relocation is slated for mid-2018 when the city completes a 9,500-square-foot facility for fire station No. 1 in mid-2018.


Two additional fire stations were recommended for construction under the Citygate report, provided no additional annexations occur.


A proposed fire station is expected to go up along McHard Road and Shadow Creek Parkway. The city may budget the design expenses for fiscal year 2017-18, Pearson said. A construction timeline was not set.


“The goal is to add fire stations and personnel at a steady, affordable, manageable rate to improve the response times to our citizens,” Riley said.


In 2011, the city commissioned a master fire station location plan, which concluded Pearland would need nine fire stations at buildout within the city limits. Another two stations were recommended once Pearland annexes land within its extraterritorial jurisdiction.


“I don’t see Pearland being any different than any other city that has transitioned from being an all-volunteer [force] … It just can’t happen over night,” Riley said. “It’s expensive, and to make it work out right, it needs to be good steady change.”


Challenges in the ETJ


June 2017 PLF Lead 2 PFD fire response graphic3Lakes of Savannah is a planned development with 1,900 single-family homes bordered by FM 58 and Hwy. 6. At total build out, the development will have 3,400 homes.


Although PFD owns and operates Station No. 6 in Lakes of Savannah, it has sat unstaffed since its completion in 2012. It was built as a volunteer station by the developer for $600,000 per a 2002 agreement between the city and municipal utility districts 21 and 22. The station houses one equipped fire engine.


Because Station No. 6 is unstaffed, other stations across the city fill the service gap. The closest station is 6 miles away in Shadow Creek Ranch.


The quickest response time can take 10-15 minutes assuming the fire station in Shadow Creek Ranch is not at another incident, Riley said.


The distance has caused some residents to speak out in frustration at City Council meetings. The area has suffered eight structure fires and five total losses since 2014, according to a 2017 legal brief from MUD 21.


“On my street alone, there have been two structural house fires—complete total loss. And now they sit as empty lots,” said Jeff Noor Mohammad, a 10-year resident of Lakes of Savannah, to the City Council on April 24.


Lakes of Savannah residents pay a monthly fee to the city for fire and EMS services. In 2017, residents paid $14.84 a month. Officials said they do not have the resources to extend any existing fire fighters to staff Station No. 6.


“It’s not a high priority to staff that station because it’s outside city limits,” PFD Assistant Chief Daniel Baum said.


The city began negotiating with the MUDs in May to raise the monthly fee to $30. The increase would cover the cost of a two-person crew for EMS and basic fire service, Baum said.


A four-person crew is required to operate a fire engine, and the existing station is too small to be fully staffed with career firefighters, officials said.


The two-person crew would serve the Lakes of Savannah community and take calls in other parts of Pearland.


“The MUDs’ position is that they should not pay for the full cost of that facility since it serves a larger area than just Lakes of Savannah,” said Tim Austin, the legal representative for MUDs 21 and 22.


Eventually, Station No. 6 is expected to expand, but the cost is high at an estimated $1.8 million, according to a 2016 PFD memo.


Editor's note: The story was updated to reflect that the Pearland Fire Department's response times were measured on a percentile system, not an average response time. The story was also updated to include EMS calls from 2014.




MOST RECENT

Pride Houston Parade
Pride Houston fall parade and festival canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

The downtown annual parade and festival, scheduled for Sept. 25, will be replaced by a Montrose block party and other events, organizers announced July 25.

The CDC reversed its masking guidance for fully vaccinated individuals in response to the transmissibility of the delta variant of COVID-19 in a press conference July 27. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
NEW CDC GUIDANCE: All individuals should wear masks in K-12 schools, including those who are fully vaccinated

The new CDC guidance, announced July 27, also recommends people in areas with "high" or "substantial" levels of transmission wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Texas Medical Center coronavirus updates: Average testing positivity rate nears 10% after sharp increase

Over 97% of people nationwide who are being hospitalized because of the disease are unvaccinated.

Six Friendswood citizens were honored in Hope Village's fundraiser. (Haley Morrison/Community Impact Newspaper)
Hope Village honors residents from 12 Houston-area cities in 'Faces of Hope' fundraiser

Nominees received yard signs that were out on lawns for approximately two weeks in July.

As variants are isolated and identified, Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass believes the vaccines available can handle identified variants (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
'The vaccines we have are effective against all the variants out there': Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass discusses variants, vaccinations

As Houston Methodist identified its first case of the lambda variant July 19, Dr. Glass believes vaccines can handle known variants.

(Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Clear Creek ISD trustees to vote on district's 2021-22 compensation, benefits plan July 26

The proposed plan includes a 3% salary increase for all employees.

As variants are isolated and identified, Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass believes the vaccines available can handle identified variants. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Here is how Galveston County's COVID-19 positivity rates, infection patterns compare year over year

The county was in the middle of a second wave of coronavirus infections in July 2020. One year later, an outbreak has affected more than 150 county residents and marked the emergence of the delta variant.

Peter Lake (left), chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Brad Jones, interim president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, provided an update on state regulators' electric grid redesign efforts in Austin on July 22. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Regulators: Texas electric grid prepared for potentially record-breaking demand next week; 'once-in-a-generation reforms' underway

The heads of the agencies in charge of the Texas electric grid met in Austin on July 22 to provide updates on their grid reform efforts.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is pleading with residents to be more vigilant, asking all residents to start wearing masks again in indoor settings and asking those who are vaccinated to urge their friends who are not to get the shot. (Screenshot Courtesy Facebook)
Harris County raises coronavirus threat level as Hidalgo asks all residents to mask up indoors

Although those who are vaccinated are very unlikely to end up in the hospital, officials said wearing masks in certain situations could help reduce transmissions to the more susceptible unvaccinated.

The Pearland Entertainment and Beverage Coalition, the organization in charge of circulating the petition, needed to garner 15,050 signatures in 60 days. It got roughly 18,000. (Coutesy Adobe Stock)
Petition aiming to change alcohol laws in Pearland achieves signatures requirement

A citizen-led petition met the signature requirement needed for the city of Pearland to potentially allow entertainment businesses, or businesses that make more than 51% of their revenue in alcohol sales, to come to the city.