Phoenix fire says new hires and stations making ‘significant impact’
Seven months after the union representing Phoenix firefighters launched a public campaign to highlight concerns over staffing, response times, and high call volume, the department is touting progress.
Between this fiscal year and next, Phoenix expects to add 172 firefighters, that’s more than 10% of the department’s current sworn staff, according to . Executive Assistant Chief Scott Walker.
He recently told a council subcommittee about changes to how calls are handled. For example, in the past, a crew would automatically be dispatched to a call labeled as "check welfare."
"Those were not really netting us a real incident where someone was really needing a fire emergency’s resources, so by asking a few more questions, by changing how we dispatch, we’ve seen a 90% reduction in those dispatches,” he said.
That’s almost 4,000 calls a year. Another change is offering telehealth appointments to people who do not need emergency medical care.
“This is where a 911 caller calls our dispatch center, we can ask a few questions based on their needs and based on their capacity and willingness to maybe do a telehealth counsel, we can divert that caller to a medical provider right then and there,” Walker said. “Oftentimes, for example, the person may just need a prescription filled or a prescription. Well, instead of sending a fire truck and then an ambulance to transport to the hospital for the hospital ER to then connect them to a doctor, we can make that happen in minutes.”
Combined with other changes, Walker said, annual call volume could be cut by 15,000 to 20,000.
Construction is underway for two fire stations in northeast and southwest Phoenix, and the City Council just approved a new fire station for Ahwatukee. If voters approve a bond this November, more stations will be upgraded and built.
“So we’re talking about in a six-year window, bringing on about 300 new positions and six new fire stations, six engines, a ladder, battalion chief and six rescues. That’s a small fire department across this country, I can tell you, so that is a significant impact,” Walker said.