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Two Firefighters Must Staff ARUs If Program Starts Again

ARU Bobby Williams
Spokane Fire Department

The Spokane Fire Department’s small, non-emergency vehicles must be staffed by two people and aim to arrive within 12 minutes of the 911 call. Those changes came down in an ordinance from the city council this week, with encouragement by union leaders but opposition from the fire chief.

Criticism mentioned online and in local news stories contends the ordinance was a surprise to the fire leadership. But City Council President Ben Stuckart says they discussed it with the fire chief in June and even requested data, which never came.

The fire department started using single-staffed  vehicles called ARUs, Alternative Response Units, in 2013. Stuckart says a few firefighters shared stories with him about problems in the ARU program.

Stuckart: “This isn’t about politics, it’s about public safety. And it’s about a woman that died, she lived near Albi, the fire station that the citizens are paying for was 2-3 minutes away, could have responded, and could have changed the situation.”

Ben Stuckart
Credit City Cable 5
Council President Ben Stuckart speaking at the Monday meeting regarding ARUs. The ordinance will require two firefighters to staff them, not one as previously enforced.

In one case last year, a woman died after a fall that happened between the time of the 911 call and when the ARU firefighter reached her. He says the units are often dispatched across town, when a fire station is closer, and other times an incident really does require more than one firefighter.

Five of seven council-members approved the ARU changes, but don’t have the approval of fire chief Bobby Williams who spoke at Monday’s meeting.

Williams: “We continue to modify the program based on our experiences. We’ll continue to do that. From these things we would urge the council, I would urge, and the city administration would urge, to not take action on this proposed ordinance.”

Williams and the mayor put the program on hold and worked on improvement in the past months. Those include requiring dispatchers to ask 911 callers if they can wait 20 minutes and if one firefighter will be enough.

Stuckart and councilwoman Karen Stratton asked the mayor to continue suspending the program, but instead its scheduled to resume August 3rd.

If fire officials start up the small medical response units again next week, they’ll have to staff them with two people.

Copyright 2015 Spokane Public Radio

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