Safety panel submits ideas

Developments' needs in emergencies assessed

Fire departments strained

Response times below 10 minutes recommended

Carroll County

December 29, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

If recommendations from a public safety committee are adopted, new developments in Carroll County won't move forward unless firefighters are able to reach the area in less than 10 minutes.

The committee was formed this year by firefighters and county officials to help alleviate the strain that residential and commercial growth - and a steady influx of nursing homes and assisted-living centers - are putting on the county. Its assignment: To devise ways to determine whether new developments are prepared to handle medical and fire emergencies.

Led by Winfield Fire Chief Greg Dods, the group met with nearly 20 members of the county's growth management task force Dec. 17 to make its last presentation. At that meeting, the emergency services group called for using response time as a measure of preparedness. .

Dods said that the group crunched numbers from the county's emergency dispatchers and reached a consensus that 10 minutes was the amount of time that an ambulance could travel from a fire station to a development and still be effective, although less time would be ideal.

"Eight minutes is the response time for critical-care patients," Dods told the task force. He said that if ambulances can get to the location within eight minutes 90 percent of the time, new developments should be approved.

The task force accepted the recommendation, which will be presented to county commissioners early next year.

The group also encouraged the county to consolidate the forms that are used to approve developments and to ensure that county and fire officials are informed of the others' observations about roads, bridges and alternative routes to new developments.

In June, the county commissioners imposed a one-year freeze on most residential and commercial development. The measure halted subdivision plans that are covered by the county's adequate-facilities laws. The freeze was designed to give county officials time to work on more permanent growth controls without creating a rush of development.

At the same time, county officials created the growth management task force to develop recommendations on adequate-facilities standards for schools, businesses, homes and public safety.

In its meeting with the task force, Dods' group recommended retaining a standard to measure a new development's emergency preparedness. If estimates show that a fire company's response time would exceed five minutes for fewer than 15 percent of calls, the development would be in compliance with adequate-facilities restrictions.

In addition, if estimates show that the number of calls that would have to be passed on to another station is fewer than 4 percent, the development would be in compliance.

Scott Campbell, director of the county's Office of Public Safety, acknowledged that this standard alone is not enough to determine a development's ability to handle emergencies. He expressed the hope that the task force would incorporate other factors into the decision to move ahead with a project.

The emergency services group said such factors would include water sources and volume, road and bridge conditions and the number of medical personnel assigned to a fire company.

Dods recommended combining the county's database of road and bridge conditions with data on traffic volume to determine if a road can handle fire engines and other emergency vehicles.

Fire officials said that they need more staff for emergency medical services, which they say account for two-thirds of their calls. Dods said that 72 percent of the assignments given to the county's fire stations last year were for medical emergencies.

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