Our View: Emergency response policy makes sense

Rochester police, firefighters and Gold Cross Ambulance crew members responded to a five-vehicle crash at the intersection of North Broadway and Civic Center Drive in Rochester earlier this month.

Faced with increasing demands for the city's police and fire departments, it's not hard to understand why Rochester City Council member Michael Wojcik requested an independent review of public safety operations.

On Monday, Wojcik cited a Toronto-area study stating only 1.7 percent of medical-related 911 calls benefited from fire department response. Rochester's current 911-response policy calls for fire, police and ambulance crews to respond to all emergency calls.

On the surface, it seems like overkill.

Yet, it makes sense. With basic life support crews riding on the city's fire trucks and defibrillators in police cars, chances of city staff providing care before the arrival of a Gold Cross ambulance are high in Rochester. Those chances and the many lives saved seem worth the added cost.

A key question, which Wojcik indirectly raised by citing efficiency concerns, seems to center on the fire department response, but we'd note the response is an efficient use of staff that might otherwise be idle while waiting for fire calls.


Fire officials note medical calls don't drive the fire department's staffing; crews are assigned based on fire call needs. As a result, crews only answer non-fire calls when not busy with their main mission.

The department's fire response mission is also why city residents frequently see a fire truck roll up after a heart attack is reported. The department's three-member crews need immediate access to their trucks when fire calls come in. Using a smaller vehicle would require firefighters to waste precious time turning around to retrieve needed equipment.

Police Chief Roger Peterson said he believes current operations represent a leveraging for resources for the best possible outcome, but welcomed further review. "I think if we had an outside consultant come in, hopefully they would verify that," he said of the city's resourcefulness. "But, the worst-case scenario is they wouldn't, and we'd see better ideas on the table."

Fire Chief Greg Martin also seemed open to reviewing operations but warned trying to decipher which calls require an all-out response would be a risky move. "As Chief Peterson and I know, what's reported on a 911 call isn't always what you get when you get there," Fire Chief Greg Martin told the city council Monday.

Although the three-agency response policy raises questions as both the police and fire departments are seeking more staff in the next budget, we continue to support the practice as a way of protecting the lives of city residents as well as the thousands of others who are in the city daily.

Still, we understand the need to review city policies, which is why we're happy to see council members Mark Bilderback and Nick Campion sign on to meet with the fire and police chiefs, as well as Mayo Clinic staff, to determine if any changes need to be considered or if an outside consultant could be beneficial.

We don't expect there are sweeping policy changes on the way, but the chance to exchange ideas and start a new dialogue could improve what is currently being done, which could save more lives.

And that's the type of response we like.

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