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News4Jax investigation: Waiting to be rescued

Where in Duval County does JFRD take longer to respond?

News4Jax investigation: Waiting to be Rescued
News4Jax investigation: Waiting to be Rescued

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A six-week investigation into the response times for calls for rescue in Jacksonville reveals the worst places in Duval County to have a heart attack.

News4Jax plotted Jacksonville Fire-Rescue engine response times to nearly 23,000 calls made to 911 last November and December on a map. JFRD explained this would be a good snapshot of the volume of calls it received last year.

We discovered that engine companies took longer to respond to 911 calls on the Southside of Jacksonville.

More than 50 percent of the time, it took longer than six minutes for paramedics at Fire stations 44 and 50 to get to an emergency.

Why six minutes? A patient suffering cardiac arrest is less likely to survive if basic life support is not started within six minutes, according to Baptist Hearth Specialists' cardiologist Marc Litt.

In fact, six minutes is a stretch. 

"You want to get there and start CPR within four to six minutes.  if you don't, the chance for survival goes down dramatically," Dr. Litt said.

VIDEO: How to perform CPR until help arrives

And why measure the response time of a fire engine? According to JFRD, engine companies are usually the first to arrive, and each has at least one paramedic on board who can start administering life support. 

Fire Station 44

Located on Western Way near Interstate 95 and Baymeadows Road, Station 44 services the Baymeadows area, and also the neighborhoods east of I-295.

Last month, Ervina Hare blacked out while working at the Hampton Park subdivision, which is 5.7 miles away from the station. She waited 18 minutes for Station 44's engine company to arrive.

"I didn't know what was going on. I'm blacking in and out; chest pains, headaches, vomiting," Hare said. She would later find out she had walking pneumonia.  Her lung had partially collapsed, which caused her to get violently ill.

Fire Chief Kurt Wilson said the reason it took so long is because the person who called in the emergency did not give the correct address. Hare disputes that, since it was a JSO officer who lives in Hampton Park who used his police radio to notify JFRD.

"He's lived here for years. He knows where he lives," she said.

While there is no way to determine by looking at the dispatch log how the mistake about the address was made, records show it took the Station 44 engine longer than it should have just to reach the area. The department's maximum response time should be eight minutes, yet we found it took 11 minutes to get to the incorrect address on the other side of I-295 and Gate Parkway, near Hampton Park, and then another seven minutes to drive the half mile to Hare's location.

JFRD said Hare's medical emergency happened at 5:56 p.m. on a Friday evening in the middle of rush hour traffic on heavily traveled roads..

"We were competing with a parking lot on I-295 East.  We were competing with a parking lot on Baymeadows East.  So there were a number of factors in this call that created that 18-minute response time that nobody is happy with," Wilson said.

"The pain was excruciating. I could not wish that pain on anyone, and the fact that I had to wait for help, it hurt even worse," Hare said.

More problems on Southside

The News4Jax analysis found there are not enough fire stations to keep up with the explosive growth on Jacksonville's Southside, which explains why two other stations that service that part of the city had even slower response times.

Station 50, on Beach Boulevard, and Station 59, off San Pablo Road near J. Turner Butler Boulevard, are both struggling to keep up with the large volume of calls.

On average, 61 percent of the times Station 50 received an emergency call, the engine company did not make it within six minutes.

It took longer than six minutes for Station 59's engine company to respond to 57 percent of the calls it received in November and December.

The fire chief says a new fire station the Southside would alleviate these slower response times.

"Last year, we had almost a 5,000-call run number increase from the previous year, as I maintain the same number of fire stations," Wilson explained. 

Wilson said his hands are tied since City Council is the organization that decides when and if a new station can be built.

"The council controls the checkbook," he said.

Wilson also explained that with so many calls, Fire stations 44, 50 and 59 are constantly out on calls. If another call comes in while they are out, then another station must respond from even farther away.

City's newest fire station already overtaxed

Station 62 was built in 2012 after three houses were destroyed in a fire and one patient died of cardiac arrest.

"We had a 20-minute response time, and the squeaky wheel got the station, in the sense that they (Bartram Park residents) created a task force, they went to their council person," Wilson said.

Less than four years later, exploding growth in the area has overtaxed the new fire station. Our investigation found it has among the slowest response times in the county, with its engine company making it to a call within six minutes only 31 percent of the time.

Wilson said the area already needs another fire station.

Asked if the city was adding fire stations to next year's budget, Mayor Lenny Curry's spokesman said that "fire stations are certainly a budget consideration, along with other needs and priorities to be determined this summer."

District 11 City Councilman Daniel Becton, whose district includes Hampton Park, where Hare blacked out and waited 18 minutes for JFRD, said he is working aggressively to get his colleagues on the council to allocate money to build a station in the area.

Longer response times in less-populated areas

When you move away from the congested areas, response time can grow even longer.

At fire stations on the Northside, Westside and Maxville, it took longer than six minutes for an fire engine to reach a call on a majority runs.

The data showed that the engine company from Station 49 on Yellow Bluff Road only arrived within six minutes an average of 21.4 percent of the time.

Response time from Station 48, on Blount Island, was only slightly better, with the engine company arriving within that six-minute target 23.7 percent of the time.

At Station 43, near Maxville, its engine arrived within six minutes 29.7 percent of the time.

For Station 53, on Jones Road on the Westside, its engine response time was only slightly better, arriving within six minutes on 31 percent of calls.

Many of these areas are rural and some of the calls are to dirt roads, which are harder to find and navigate, slowing down response time. And because there are greater distances between fire stations, if the closest engine is on a call the next-closest could be a dozen miles away.

News4Jax investigators plotted the results of analyzing data for every JFRD fire engine on an interactive map showing the percentage of calls with response times over four, five, six and eight minutes, as well as the total number of calls in November and December 2015.

How to respond to emergency vehicles on the road

Please remember, if you should see an emergency vehicle approaching from behind your car or in front the correct reaction is to pull your car towards the nearest curb.  This will give emergency responders the room they need to get where they are going, as quickly as possible.

Do you know someone who waited too long for rescue to reach him/her? Is there something else you would like me to investigate? Email jwaugh@wjxt.com.


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