ANNUAL REPORT: Grand Junction Fire Department Averaging Slower Response Times

By: Jessica Zartler Email
By: Jessica Zartler Email

It's a story you saw first on 11 News and The Grand Junction Fire Department has released its 2008 Annual Report showing emergency calls are way up and its taking longer for crews to respond.

Fire officials say as the Grand Valley grows, its becoming a bigger challenge to keep up with fire and medical calls with the resources they have.

Firefighters wait on edge to hear the tones and sirens calling them to action, and firefighter Matt Carson says it's a sound they're hearing more and more often.

"We've seriously had days with 20 calls and you have a fire, a serious car accident a technical/water rescue and it just never seems to end," Carson told 11 News last week.

Carson has worked for the Grand Junction Fire Department for 16 years and says growth in the valley is heating up emergency call lines.

"More people means more people on the monument, more people on the river--which means more calls," said Carson.

To be exact, 843 more calls from 2007 to 2008 and according to department statistics, the total number of calls has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Officials say a national survey ranked one Grand Junction truck the 14th busiest in the nation but even though the department is getting more calls, Chief Ken Watkins says they haven't gotten any new stations.

"We are running that many calls out of five fire stations and essentially the same number of crews that we had in 2003," Chief Watkins told 11 News in an exclusive interview last week.

And as the number of calls go up, so does the amount of time it takes for firefighters to respond.

In just the last year, the average response time to a medical call has jumped 30 seconds and for fire calls, almost a minute--something the chief says is a constant concern.

"Our mission is to respond quickly, efficiently and safely and so we do everything we can to get there as quickly as we can," said Chief Watkins.

And the chief says until the department gets new stations, that means borrowing from surrounding fire departments, adding ambulances during peak seasons and prioritizing fire and medical calls.

It also means busier days for firefighters like Matt Carson.

"At times it can be frustrating but it's just the nature of the beast," Carson said in an interview last week.

The fire chief tells 11 News he is looking at more long term solutions to help improve response times and keep up with calls.

The fire department is looking at getting their hands on some stimulus money to build a new station and/or a similar plan to the public safety initiative that failed in November's election.

However there are still a lot of questions about funding for those projects and there is no word on when any construction would begin.

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