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Report finds N.M. FD needs to add ambulances, staffing to improve response times

An independent study recommends the Santa Fe Fire Department add more ambulances, placing them at specific firehouses for increased demand


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The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M. — During the 22 years Fire Chief Brian Moya has worked for the Santa Fe Fire Department, two ambulances have been added to the fleet.

He’d like to get two more.

An external risk assessment published last week found the fire department is running more calls than it has ambulances for. It recommends at least two be added so the department can lower its response times to match industry standards.

“We’re taking a good hard look at ourselves,” Moya said.

The report was publicly released at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, where councilors listened to a presentation about its findings. It was initially commissioned two and a half years ago by Community Health and Safety Department Director Kyra Ochoa and former Fire Chief Paul Babcock. It follows a similar assessment of the police department released a year ago.

In an interview, Moya said he wanted a third party to conduct an analysis of the department so the city would know whatever recommendations it made were unbiased and were backed up with solid data.

The community risk assessment cost $60,000 and was conducted by Fitch & Associates, a Missouri-based consulting firm specializing in public safety.

Currently, the department has seven ambulances and six fire engines. The report recommends an additional ambulance be placed at Fire Station 1 and Fire Station 4 to accommodate the city’s needs and lower overall travel time.

Travel time is defined as the time between when crews notify dispatch they are driving to a call and the time they arrive on scene. The report found the city’s fire stations have a travel time of 9.6 minutes at the 90th percentile, which is “reasonably well aligned” with other cities that have similar geography as Santa Fe. However, the Commission on Fire Accreditation recommends a travel time of 5.2 minute travel time at the 90th percentile, according to the report.

An analysis of the current fire station locations found over 90% of calls could be responded to within six minutes or less with more resources, including a minimum of nine ambulance units throughout the city instead of the current seven.

Fire stations 1, 4, 3 and 7 are the busiest in the city. Station 3 on Cerrillos Road and Station 7 on the south side each already have two ambulances. The survey recommends placing additional ones at Station 1 near Fort Marcy Park and Station 4 on Arroyo Chamiso.

“The data’s proving that we need to be able to respond faster,” Moya said.

The department’s call volume has increased significantly over the past several years, Moya said. Before the pandemic it was at around 18,000 calls a year. That’s increased to 25,000. A number of factors are driving that, including an aging population and more tourists and residents.

Every time a 911 call is made, the fire department is dispatched immediately. But depending on where engines are coming from, it could take longer than average.

During peak call times, the city often has to send engines to respond to calls in different districts if the engines inside the district are already all out on calls, Moya said.

“It gets very convoluted,” he said at the meeting. “In the busiest time of the day, you might have Station 8 running a call in district 1.”

The department is the largest in the state that doesn’t rely on private EMS operators to run any 911 calls, Moya said, which gives the city more control over the training and hiring of its emergency personnel.

Anytime someone calls 911, he said, “you’re getting a city of Santa Fe employee to come to your house.”

The report also found the department is short eight people to meet ideal staffing targets, Moya said. Since becoming fire chief, he’s started holding two fire academies each year to try and ramp up hiring. The next begins in January.

At the meeting, Councilor Chris Rivera asked if the report included recommendations about potential future fire stations.

Fitch & Associates partner Steve Knight said the primary need is more resources at existing stations. If the city annexes more land, more stations may be needed, but that would be a policy decision, he said.

“Your greatest return on investment would be additional resources first,” he said.

City officials appeared to support the recommendation for more ambulances.

“Those recommendations were well founded, and I think we need to respond in the budget process,” Mayor Alan Webber said Thursday.

Councilor Michael Garcia encouraged the fire department to “shoot for the moon” when putting in budget requests for the upcoming year.

“If it means putting out more money to eventually save more lives in our community or save more structures, let’s do it,” he said.

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