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Bend Fire Department is Faster Than Ever

New triage system improves response times and cuts costs



When people think of the fire department, they think of local heroes, a big red truck, and more likely than not, a firemen's pole. It's almost certain that finance and budgeting don't enter into the picture. The reality is that in order for response times, proper medical care, general public assistance and safety to fall into place, the financial aspect must be addressed on a daily basis.

Firefighters have long been a public favorite and yet, the daily workings and behind-the-scenes life are for the most part a mystery. The Source was able to take a sneak-peek into one station, observing, asking questions and getting to know a bit more about what makes their world go round. Dave Howe, Battalion Chief of Administration at Bend Fire Department (BFD), took time out of his busy schedule to assist in informing the public on the state of the department.

"We love this community deeply and we are committed to do our best to keep people safe, resilient and healthy in a cost-effective and forward-looking manner," he says. Howe understands the trust and the responsibility given to them, and upholding that trust is something the Bend Fire Department does not take lightly.

Battalion Chief Jeff Blake agrees as he discusses the importance of balancing fund management with the growth of the population. Blake's management responsibility is to keep his firefighters alive, making sure they get the resources needed within the budget, and within a range in which the taxpayers deem manageable.

It's only in the past year that the department has achieved a "decent balance in staffing," says Blake.

Last year the department began reassessing its system, asking "How can we do better?" This seems to be the underlying theme in the department.

"Once you become a firefighter, you never stop going to school," says Blake. On the surface, this means that they never stop training, taking tests and formulating real-life situations to prepare for any possibility. Scratch the surface, however, and it's easy to associate this model with the ongoing self-evaluation that led to an innovative triage system now in place.

The department was assessing itself, asking "How can we better serve the people of Bend with the means that we have now?" Research from other departments, states, and other avenues of life brought together the idea that Bend Fire could better aid those in need by understanding the level of response required by the call. Howe explains that in the past they had to send out fully equipped engines, with their most experienced fighters to assist when that extensive level of response wasn't necessary. It was very much an all-or-nothing situation, and "nothing" just wasn't an option.

While other calls were coming in, their hands were tied and response times began to suffer. They knew something had to be done, and this led to the development of the triage system that includes a Quick Response Vehicle (QRV) and the Service Response Vehicle (SRV). These vehicles improve response time and result in resources better spent, says Howe.

Many types of calls come in at all hours of the day and night and all calls vary in importance. There is no need to send out a big red, for example, on an illegal burn call. This is where the triage system comes into place. Dispatch receives a call and determines which mode of aid is best suited for each situation. The QRVs are used for the higher priority, but non-fire emergency calls. The SRVs are used for the lower priority situations, such as the illegal burning example. The extra vehicles were added without additional funds, and will result in more savings as the department continues to manage both its time and costs.

Capt. Scott Wyman, Jeremy South, and Mitch Webb all work at Station 303. A shift for these guys is 48 hours on and 96 off. They eat, sleep, sweat, talk, laugh and live almost a third of their professional lives with each other. Capt. Wyman discusses what kind of person it takes to be able to cope with this kind of daily work. He points out that it's not only a highly physical job, but also a highly emotional one. "We see most people when they are at their worst," says Wyman, "when they or a loved one is in some sort of distress." A big part of their job is reassuring and comforting people. "Sometimes it's medical assistance we give out, but often times a hug is what's most needed," he says.

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