Paso Robles Fire and Emergency Services needs more money to provide effective emergency reponse, according to an insurance evaluation completed by the the Insurance Services Office, which gave the department what equates to a “C-minus.”
The rating could impact residents’ insurance premiums, but it also reiterates deficiencies that the department was already aware of, Paso Robles Fire Chief Jonathan Stornetta said. He said fiscal constraints have prevented the department from mitigating the deficiencies more expeditiously.
According to Stornetta, the only funding source identified for the department is Measure J-20, a 1 percent sales tax that voters can approve or reject in November.
Insurance Services Office is an independent organization that provides insurance companies with property and casualty insurance risk assessments, which help companies establish fair premiums for home and commercial fire insurance. The organization evaluates three elements for fire protection capabilities: the fire department, water supply, and emergency communications.
Paso’s fire department received a 32.88 out of 50 due mostly to a shortage of personnel, gaps in coverage areas, a lack of existing engine and ladder-service companies, and no training facility. In the water supply category, Paso received a 33.72 out of 40 due to the ability of the water distribution system to deliver needed fire flows and the number of hydrants available—the department only has two engines and would need three to pass. Inadequate staffing for fire prevention activities caused Paso to receive a 4.51 out of 5.5 for community risk reduction. Paso’s emergency communications received an 8.5 out of 10 due to a lack of dispatch and fire engine software.
In total, Paso’s Fire and Emergency Services Department received a score of 75.55 out of 105.5.
Stornetta said one of the deficiencies is the department’s average response time. Currently, the average response time for the department is 5 minutes and 26 seconds, however the City Council adopted a response goal of four minutes or less to 90 percent of all emergencies.
Stornetta said the department is meeting that goal 56 percent of the time. In 2017, the department hit that goal 45 percent of the time with an average response time of 6 minutes and 31 seconds. As response times continued to deteriorate, Stornetta said, the council allocated money to hire six additional firefighters in 2018 and staffed a paramedic squad. The move increased the department’s response capabilities by 50 percent and improved the response times to its current level, Stornetta said.
“Two of the largest reasons our response times are so long is due to simultaneous calls and geographical travel distances between only two staffed fire stations. Prior to implementation of the squad, we had over 750 simultaneous calls in 2017,” he said.
In 2018, the Paso Robles City Council presented an analysis outlining the staffing and response equipment needed over the next 10 years.
Stornetta said the city has taken several steps to plan for additional staffing, and the department is currently preparing a standards of cover plan and strategic plan to further address the gaps in services. Paso placed Measure J-20 on the November ballot to help fund these goals.
The 1 cent general sales tax would maintain services such as fire protection, paramedic services, wildfire and natural disaster emergency preparedness, 911 emergency response times, public safety, equipping first responders, fixing streets/potholes, school protective services, or other local priorities that the City Council and community may identify.
It’s the only funding source the city has identified to elevate its Fire and Emergency Services Department.
“We will continue to have longer response times, decreased quality of care, and an increased risk to the community without a funding source to improve our operational effectiveness,” Stornetta said. “A community without a sufficient and effective firefighting force is more vulnerable to large negative consequences of unwanted fires, and outcomes from risk events are more likely to be negative.” Δ