Alternative Response Policies

For those of you who read my web column on situational awareness, you noticed I mentioned the term adaptive response (also known as alternative response). If you don’t have one in place already, you should consider developing a standard operating guide (SOG) that outlines this policy.

Alarm Response
What exactly is an alternative response policy (ARP)? Well, it concerns changing what is probably one of the most traditional and historical ways a fire department responds to an alarm—lights and siren on everything. It is basically a behavioral change that many in the fire service are displeased with. After all, wasn’t that one of the reasons we joined the fire service? The adrenaline push we all get from responding full speed with lights and in some cases multiple sirens on an individual vehicle. How are we going to get to the scene to make a rescue or put out a fire quickly you may ask? How are we going to reduce response times?

Well it seems that while all of these questions merit some thought, most fire departments have been experienced serious collisions with firefighting injuries, and in some cases fatalities, responding to calls that had a low probability of being of a serious nature.

Before you develop this type of policy, study your responses and investigate which ones really didn’t constitute an emergency response. You have to see which responses would have little or no impact on citizen safety or property damage by responding at a slower pace.

Nonemergency Response
The following types of incidents are now being treated as nonemergency responses by many fire departments.

  • Activated fire alarms with no additional call reporting a fire.
  • Dumpster or trash fires.
  • Wires down or hanging.
  • Water leaks.
  • Smoke or gas odor.
  • Carbon monoxide without patient symptoms.
  • Controlled burns or already extinguished fires.

Each circumstance requires the thought process of an incident commander (IC). The adaptive response can be changed by an IC if conditions change at the scene. An apparatus can be ordered to change to a full code three response (lights and sirens) if warranted. And in some congested areas lights and sirens might be needed to clear a traffic path for response. It might be feasible for a first due apparatus to respond with lights and siren and then have additional vehicles respond adaptively.

It all depends on your response area and how you write the SOG. Also take into consideration stopping at stop signs and all red-light intersections, making sure the intersection is clear all ways before continuing during a response.

Collision Reduction
There have been numerous big city fire departments using adaptive response, including FDNY, Saint Louis, Phoenix, Virginia Beach, and Salt Lake City. According to the U.S. Fire Administration report “Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative, Saint Louis had a 90% reduction in apparatus collisions in the first couple of years.

Make sure when you begin the SOG or SOP that you follow applicable laws and codes. This includes state and federal highway laws and standards.

Also, the best written SOGs are no good if they are printed and handed out to your members and then not followed or enforced. You can consider them useless if you don’t hold your members and officers accountable for their actions responding and returning from alarms.

This column’s purpose is not to have you change your department’s behavior and immediately change your operations. Its purpose is to make you think and investigate how you can make sure your department operates more safely and reduces injuries and fatalities

There are many websites and a wealth of information on the web and from the various organizations such as IAFC, NIOSH, FEMA, The U.S. Fire Administration, NVFC, CVVFA, etc. Go to these organizations web sites and investigate what is right for your department before you write your SOG.