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Vancouver fire department cuts response times to fire and medical emergency calls

Kitchen fires are on the rise

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services carved 44 seconds off fire call response times, and 20 seconds off response times to other medical emergencies, between 2009 and 2012.

The average response time to a fire call is now seven minutes, while the average response time to a medical emergency is now six minutes.

Seconds count, according to fire department spokesman Gabe Roder.

A good example is fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, so from that point of view the quicker we can get to a call, the quicker we can get into action and start doing what we need to do be it fighting a fire or dealing with a person having a full cardiac arrest, he said.

The fire department credits the improvement in response times to new tactics by fire crews that have helped responders determine the most efficient route to an emergency regardless of traffic volume or traffic obstructions. New pickup sized fire medic trucks, which carry medical equipment and crews, have also helped cut response times to medical emergencies. Theyve replaced larger fire trucks that used to perform these tasks.

Roder also noted the importance of fire safety measures.

Multi-residential buildings and workplaces are required by law to have fire extinguishers available. He advises homeowners to have one on hand as well and to know how to use it. In case of a fire, a decision on whether to use a fire extinguisher must be made quickly or you risk putting yourself in a compromising position.

When in doubt, get out, Roder said.

The fire department spreads fire safety messages through programs such as one geared to Grade 3 students, which outlines the dangers of fire and how to get out of the house, but getting messages across to adults is more difficult.

Kitchen fires, Roder said, have become an epidemic in Vancouver.

Two women have died in kitchen fires so far this year. Both cases involved stove tops igniting the victims cotton robes.

A 72-year-old woman died in a Sept. 2 fire on Haro Street, while a 49-year-old woman was hospitalized after a July 24th fire on West 73 Avenue. The 49-year-old died Oct. 13 after multiple surgeries and a massive infection directly related to burns.

There have been 280 kitchen fires in Vancouver this year up to Nov. 30, causing $2.8 million in damage.

The number is up from 2011 when 228 kitchen fires caused $2.1 million in damage, and from 2010 when 163 kitchen fires caused $1.4 million in losses.

Kitchen fires are on the rise throughout North America, not just in the City of Vancouver, Roder said. Its our lives that we live now we live our lives so connected: cellphones, texting, watching TV, being on computers. It doesnt take much for us to lose focus on what were doing in one room and going to another room and getting distracted.

Roder noted response times are crucial in these cases.

This is a perfect example of if we can get there quicker that gives us the opportunity to get to what we might call a fire that causes significant smoke damage to a fire thats now fully involved and has caught all the kitchen cabinets and is actually burned into the oven hood and ends up in the wall area, he said.

The fire department inspects thousands of residential buildings and workplaces annually to ensure theyre meeting fire safety regulations. Inspection numbers have gone up, while the percentage of violations has fallen.

There were 11,902 inspections in 2009, 12.9 per cent with violations; there were 13,233 inspections in 2010, 9.5 per cent with violations; there were 17,363 inspections in 2011, 9.6 per cent with violations; and 17,173 inspections in 2012 to date, 6.3 per cent with violations.

noconnor@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Naoibh