Is Palm Beach County Fire Rescue's response times tracking system working?

Contact 5 checks in after promised changes

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - At Engine 91, being right on time is the only option. But not all firefighters within Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, had the same urgency. 

In a Contact 5 investigation, first published in May of this year, we showed you surveillance video, taken from a Palm Springs Publix, that showed a Lt. delaying a cardiac arrest call. The Lieutenant is ordering a sandwich when that call comes in, More than a minute later, the video shows he is still waiting for his sandwich. After 3 minutes and 10 seconds, the Lt. finally leaves the store.

When the investigation first broke, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Chief Jeff Collins told Contact 5, as a result, the department made changes to the way response times are recorded. The new system will record when a truck says it’s en route, and when it actually starts moving.

Contact 5 wanted to see if it’s working, more than 6 months later.

“A turnout time is one part we can effectively change. So it’s the time from when they’re doing whatever, wherever they’re at to the time they get to the truck and start moving,” says Chief Doug Clark.

They’re tracking that, through what’s called the AVL.

“AVL is measuring GPS locations. It’s their location and how fast you know that they’re starting to move,” said Chief Clark.

And comparing those numbers, to the time it takes to get to a call.

“What we’re doing now is, every single day we pick the ten calls with the biggest discrepancies,” said Chief Clark.

But a Contact 5 investigation has revealed, the system is sometimes putting the wrong people on the“naughty list.”

“Between connectivity or you know other reasons, just like your cell phone not working, the system may have a breakdown. And so that’s causing bad data. When you would compare the two sets of data, you might have an extreme, a 13 minutes extreme,” said Palm Beach County Fire Chief Jeff Collins.

There’s also the 99-meter ring. The GPS doesn’t start tracking, until crews are at least 99 meters from the station.

“Engine 91 actually ran a call and they never left that circle,” said Chief Clark. That Clark is talking about, was at the sheriff’s office next door. The system said, they never moved.

“So that would show, they’ll be on the naughty list tomorrow. It’s a perfect example,” said Chief Clark.

There’s also a delay if they encounter something within that ring.

“What we’re finding is there are areas in the county where we have delayed responses because of actual either terrain or it might be something like train tracks or bridges that we have to go over,” said Chief Collins.

So far though, there’s been no discipline.

“99% of all of our firefighters are absolutely trying to do the most incredible job. And there’s a few sometimes that we have some concerns with. And that’s really all we’re looking at. Some trending of that,” said Chief Clark.

“We’ve put the directive out, that if we know that there’s a delay in response to a call and it’s intentional, that’s going to get discipline,” said Chief Collins.

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