Columbus (OH) Fire Crews Not Quick Enough to Outlying Areas

Columbus firefighters can’t reach some outlying sections of the city quickly enough and must rely on neighboring departments, which some fire administrators blame on a growing population and lack of planning, reports The Columbus Dispatch.

Administrators and fire union officials said there are dozens of neighborhoods on the Far North and Far East sides of the city that can’t be reached by the city in less than 12 minutes — double the accepted response time of six minutes set by the National Fire Protection Association.

Columbus’ average response time across the city is four to six minutes, depending on the emergency. Firefighters from adjacent areas, including Westerville and Jefferson Township, provide help to those outlying Columbus neighborhoods in well under 12 minutes. But, unaided, Columbus crews are too far away.

“Twelve minutes would be our response time if we were the only unit covering those areas,” Columbus Fire Chief Gregory A. Paxton said.

“But we have partners in other communities that help us with those areas, and we have not heard any complaints from residents.”

The division’s five-year plans consistently list adding new fire stations, said Paxton, who became chief last year, but the plans have been just as consistently delayed.

The city bought property on Waggoner Road on the Far East Side intending to build a firehouse almost 10 years ago, according to Franklin County auditor records. There were plans in 2003 to hire more firefighters and paramedics to staff a new station, fire officials said. A slowing economy halted those plans, and the economic recession in 2008 strangled all momentum. The city has not added firefighter or paramedic positions for several years.

Between 2000 and 2010, Columbus added about 76,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census. The data show that an additional 45,000 people had left the city’s core and moved to outer sections of Columbus.

Fire and emergency runs have increased 20 percent to almost 150,000 last year, but the city has nearly the same number of firefighters as it did a decade ago.

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