SPRINGDALE — The city’s emergency dispatch center in the past 16 months received more than 100 calls for ambulance service when no ambulance was available, the city’s fire chief said.
A survey of ambulance calls from Jan. 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, showed the department had 108 times when all the city’s ambulances were responding to calls and unable to take new calls, Fire Chief Mike Irwin said.
Ambulances from Rogers, Lowell and Central Emergency Medical Services answered 14 of the excess calls, he said. Residents needing help waited longer in the other 94 instances for a Springdale ambulance.
Irwin said all Springdale firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians — and some as paramedics — and can begin care before an ambulance arrives.
“And our guys are real good, once they get a patient off the stretcher, to call themselves back into service and catch those calls as they can,” he said.
It’s time to put one of the city’s two reserve ambulances into full-time service, Irwin told City Council members recently. All he needs is six new crew members to man it.
The Fire Department also needs additional leadership as its staff grows with the city, and Irwin wants to add three battalion chief positions — putting two on each shift where now there is one, he said.
Irwin on Wednesday requested from the City Council $359,000 a year to hire six firefighters. He also asked for $339,423 in yearly salaries for three more battalion chiefs.
The ambulance slated for full-time duty would run out of Station No. 7 on Har-Ber Avenue, making it the only ambulance based west of Interstate 49, Irwin said. The ambulance he would use is one of two reserve ambulances, filling in when another ambulance is out of service for mechanical work.
Irwin said the five ambulances should fill the city’s needs for another five years, based on growth projections.
The new battalion chiefs would join the current three who each supervise one of three shifts. Irwin said one battalion chief can’t efficiently supervise 43 firefighters and medical personnel in one shift.
“That supervision is getting increasingly more difficult with nine stations to supervise,” he said.
The council originally heard the Fire Department’s requests last fall while determining the department’s allocation in the 2021 budget. Council members again will consider the plan during the Police and Fire Committee meeting June 14.
Council members all expressed support of the positions, but wondered if the timing was right.
“It’s a tough call,” said council member Mike Lawson. “You never want to discount the fire and police and safety for the residents.”
He said he would rather see the city add the new positions as officials are preparing the budget for the next year — especially the battalion chiefs’ jobs.
“If we’ve made it this far into the year without them, then it’s not an emergency,” he said. “We can take a look at it again at budget time.”
Council member Brian Powell noted the 108 calls the Fire Department couldn’t immediately answer.
“What if the 109th call was your child in a wreck on the interstate, your house on fire, your wife having a heart attack?” he asked. “If we take on growth, we’ve got to take on the changes.”
He said he supports the idea of an ambulance at Station No. 7.
“We need that, and we need it now,” he said.
But the council might leave the battalion chief positions for next year’s budget, Powell said.
Mayor Doug Sprouse said Irwin has done his research and reported how many people he is going to need in the next few years.
“It’s going to be a gut punch with their salaries,” Sprouse said. “But I expect we’ll get it done.”
Irwin said none of the fire accreditation agencies publish standards that correlate any number — population, size of city, etc. — as to when local fire departments need to add new stations, equipment and staff.
Curt Floyd, a retired deputy fire chief now working for the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy, Mass., said fire departments typically struggle to properly cover new areas as developing communities expand out from the cities.
“This requires properly located stations, new apparatus and equipment, as well as people to staff those stations,” he said.
Rogers Fire Department shares growing pains with Springdale and all departments in the area, said Fire Chief Tom Jenkins.
The Rogers department has approached the problem by running an extra ambulance in times of high call volume and contracting with a third-party ambulance service to handle calls that don’t require the department’s skills, Jenkins said.
Six of the city’s eight fire stations are staffed with paramedics and carry paramedic equipment on their trucks, so they can treat patients before the ambulance arrives on the scene, Jenkins added. Four ambulances serve the city around the clock, he said.
One Springdale battalion chief supervises 43 people on each shift who are spread across the city’s nine fire houses.
“That span of control is too large,” Irwin said. “That’s too many people for one person to manage.”
Irwin said that many of the city’s firefighters are young, with just one or two years’ experience — which calls for more supervision and guidance.
The one battalion chief could be working with firefighters at Station No. 5 on East Robinson Avenue when a major incident call comes from the northwest section of town, he said. The battalion chief’s response time would be 20 to 25 minutes.
“That’s just too long to go without a supervisor,” Irwin said.
The battalion chiefs handle personnel matters, lead training as needed and more, along with duties as a role model and incident commander, he said.
The Springdale Fire Department runs four ambulances on a shift, all staffed with a paramedic and an emergency medical technician. These ambulances are housed at Stations No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, Irwin said.
The ambulance based at Station No. 4 on Elm Springs Road is the busiest with 19,074 calls in the 16-month period surveyed. That ambulance covers most of western Springdale inside Interstate 49 and all of Springdale west of the interstate. Station No. 6 on South 48th Street, just east of the interstate, doesn’t house an ambulance.
The city bought two ambulances in 2019 after two others were wrecked in a winter ice storm, Irwin said.
One of the city’s not-so-old ambulances, which was retired to reserve status, would return to the streets under his proposal, Irwin said. An older ambulance would remain in reserve.
Irwin noted department records show, historically, that for every three homes added to the city each year, one more emergency call is made.
Irwin said ambulances at all city fire stations would be ideal, but aren’t necessary now.
The city also will need to consider adding more stations, he said.
The department first needs to build an expanded Station No. 4. The council last month approved $443,000 to buy several acres at 3377 W. Huntsville Road to build a fire station to replace Station No. 4.
The city also will need stations in the northern and southeastern parts of town, Irwin said.
Springdale fire stations
• Station No. 1: Holcombe Avenue downtown, two reserve ambulances
• Station No. 2: Don Tyson Parkway, 1 ambulance
• Station No. 3: North Thompson Street, 1 ambulance
• Station No. 4: Elm Springs Road, 1 ambulance
• Station No. 5: East Robinson Avenue, 1 ambulance
• Station No. 6: South 48th St, no ambulance
• Station No. 7: Har-Ber Avenue, no ambulance
• Station No. 8: Huntsville Avenue, no ambulance
• Station No. 9: Downum Road, no ambulance