Enhancing Emergency Response of the Nantucket Fire Department


Sponsor: Nantucket Fire Department IMG_9936
Sponsor Liaison: Chief Mark McDougall, Nantucket Fire Department
Peter Morrison, Member of the New Fire Station Committee
Emily Brecher, Nate Sauer, Sarah Smith and Carson Wolf
Abstract: The Nantucket Fire Department (NFD) faces not only the obstacles of every fire department trying to protect lives and property, but also the burden of an enormous summer population and no prospect of mutual aid. Accordingly, the goal of this project was to analyze the response times of the NFD in comparison with their goals and national standards, and recommend effective strategies to enhance response and prepare for the future growth. We conclude that congestion, long travel distances, and call concurrency slow response times. We recommend the Town builds a new fire station at the public safety facility with sufficient space for growth, invests in additional staff, and further examines the effects of satellite stations and forward deployment of resources at peak times.
Links: Enhancing NFD Emergency Response
Fire Department Presentation

Executive Summary

Fire Departments are a vital public resource, and their response times are critical to public safety. Response times to fire emergencies is significant because of flashover, the point at which the fire becomes more dangerous and difficult to fight, which occurs within the first four to ten minutes of burning (Cote, 2008). Quick response to medical emergencies is also important because in an incident of cardiac arrest, CPR must start as quickly as possible. When responding to calls, the fire department can encounter an abundance of obstacles that increase response time. These include, but are not limited to, traffic, unpaved roads, multiple calls occurring at once, and distance to the incident. The Nantucket Fire Department (NFD) is presented with its own set of unique challenges, besides the ones normally faced by fire departments, as its isolated location as an island severely limits its ability to receive mutual aid. The Island of Nantucket also experiences population flux throughout the year as the summer months bring vacationers and summer homeowners alike which increases the island’s population from approximately 10,500 in the off-season to around 56,000 people in the peak travel months. Thus, in the summer, the Nantucket Fire Department receives an increased number of calls and in turn a higher number of concurrent calls while not increasing the number of staff on duty.

Most of our analysis was on the call data from 2007 to 2013. The Nantucket fire department receives around 2500 emergency calls per year and this number is steadily increasing. During the summer months call volume almost doubles from the average off-season months, but the amount of staff that the NFD has remains constant.

The following map shows that in 2013, on Nantucket, 38% of all calls’ response time fall under five minutes, while 78% fall under ten minutes. We focused a larger part of our analysis on identifying the factors that affected the 22% of calls where there response time was over 10 minutes.

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We found that there were 3 major factors that impacted response times: distance, traffic, and call concurrency. Distance is the obvious factor and makes up the calls with high response times in the Madaket and Siasconset areas. When looking at a map of high response times, we expected to see the majority of those calls on the outer edges of the island but this was not the case.  The most significant factor was traffic during the summer, which causes high response times to emergencies close to the station and in the downtown area, where a majority of the calls occur. We found that 40% of non-concurrent calls with a response time of 10 minutes or higher during the summer fell close to the roads deemed as highly congested. Both distance and traffic could be addressed by strategically placing a satellite station on the outskirts of town, so that the department would be in a position to more easily respond to calls both in and outside of town, without having to spend as much time avoiding traffic. Concurrent calls, defined as more than one call occurring at the same time, also affect response times, because they stretch the department’s resources to the limit. At any given time, there are enough staff in the central station to comfortably respond to two concurrent calls – after this point, the department relies on call firefighters who may not be able to respond to a call. This leads to a slower response time to the third or subsequent concurrent calls. When looking at calls with a response time of 10 minutes or greater we see that 34% of them were concurrent calls. As there is nothing that can be done to prevent concurrent calls, the solution to this issue is for the department to hire more staff. The final factor that impacts response time is distance. Nantucket is a 14 mile wide island, so the centrally located station is approximately 7 miles away from any calls that occur in Madaket or Siasconset. Placing staff and equipment in satellite stations at these points in times of high call volume, rather than the current satellite stations which only house minimal equipment and no staff, would help mitigate this problem.

We also simulated the impacts on response times of placing satellite stations in different locations. This was done by comparing the estimated time of arrival given by Google for both the central station and the satellite station. From the simulations, we found three potential locations for satellite stations that each have their own advantages.

Through our analysis the group produced various solutions for the Nantucket Fire Departments obstacles of traffic, distance, and concurrent calls. Response times lengthened due to traffic could be addressed by strategically locating satellite stations or forward deployments, so that the fire department would not have to navigate congested downtown roads as much.  Response times delayed by distance could also be controlled by satellite stations, but rather than being located in or near town they would need to be located on the outskirts of the island in the Siasconset or Madaket areas. Finally response times which have been delayed due to call concurrency can only be controlled by hiring more staff. The lack of adequate personnel causes the Nantucket Fire Department to reach the limits of its capabilities after only two concurrent calls. Hiring more staff would increase the NFD’s ability to respond to more calls happening at the same time.