Marble Falls Fire Chief Russell Sander touted the efficiency of the department’s Squad 51 unit in improving response times and reducing the need for assistance from outside departments during overlapping calls.
Since Squad 51 came into service on Jan. 15, 2019, it has helped improve the department’s response time by 5 percent, with 55 percent of calls responded to in 5 minutes or less, and decreased reliance on mutual aid by a whopping 71 percent.
“We were getting a lot of medical calls coming in,” Sander said during an Oct. 6 report to the Marble Fall City Council.
Marble Falls Fire Rescue responds with Marble Falls Area EMS to many medical calls. Before Squad 51, the department would often have to send the main fire truck and crew.
“Engine 1 would be on call and that second call would come in, and we’d have to request a mutual aid fire department to come in,” Sander said.
This resulted in a longer response time for the second call.
The solution was a team in a specially equipped SUV primarily tackling medical calls, freeing up Engine 1 for other emergencies.
Since coming online, Squad 51 has responded to 78 percent of all medical calls the department has received. The crew are members of Marble Falls Fire Rescue and also respond in Engine 1 or the ladder truck to commercial and structure fires and other alarms.
In addition to being an agile responder, the SUV is also more cost-effective. The fire department estimates a savings of $2,641 in fuel and $18,000 in maintenance costs related to Engine 1.
“It’s also very expensive to run the fire engine down the road,” Sander said. “It’s running a little over roughly six to seven dollars a mile. The squad, however, costs us about thirty-five cents a mile. We also don’t want to put wear and tear onto the larger engine. By utilizing an SUV to run those medical calls, it’s more agile and it does its service.”
The number of overlapping calls continues to increase in the city, according to Sander’s report, but the reliance on mutual aid to respond to these problems has decreased.
“Response times are better because we’re able to handle the number of calls with our units in town with the two units instead of requesting mutual aid all the time,” Sander said.
For those of a certain age, Squad 51 might sound familiar. It takes its name from the modified 1972 Dodge truck used in the TV series “Emergency!”
“The staff asked me if they could name it that, and what does it hurt?” Sander said. “It’s a little bit of a tribute to the design of that type of program, of having a smaller vehicle that runs your medical calls.”
Marble Falls Fire Rescue is currently using one of its older SUVs for Squad 51, but Sander said the department is in the midst of outfitting a new one for this purpose.