Fire, ambulance response times are harmful for emergency outcomes in Lawrence, Fire Medical leaders say

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Bystander intervention in cardiac arrests lags behind national average, chief says

Over the last 15 years, Lawrence’s firefighter-paramedics have seen a 62% increase in call volume but no increase to the number of fire stations. 

Tom Fagan, interim chief of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, told Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday that LDCFM’s first responders are successful when they are able to reach emergencies within their goal of four minutes or less of travel time.


But the substantial increase in calls for service over the past several years — from 8,964 calls in 2006 to 14,560 in 2021, according to LDCFM’s presentation — and the simultaneous calls that occur can stretch limited resources and hinder the outcomes of fire and medical emergencies. 

The number of fires contained to their room of origin was 56% in fiscal year 2020 and 61% in FY 2021, below the target of 90%, according to statistics provided to the commission in an update ahead of the meeting. 

In addition, the number of cardiac arrest patients with pulsatile rhythms upon arrival to a hospital dropped from 38% in FY 2020 to 36.7% in FY 2021, below the goal of 60%. 

However, “We’ve found that our outcomes, when we’re positioned to do well, is nearly five times the national average of a high quality of life post-resuscitation,” Fagan said. “… Ultimately, that’s what we want. We want people to not only survive the event, but to have a great life post-resuscitation.”

Green areas on this map indicate where LDCFM can generally reach emergencies within four-minute drives. Red circled areas show where those response times are lagging, putting lives and property in greater danger in medical and fire emergencies. (LDCFM update, Lawrence City Commission’s April 19, 2022 agenda)

A station optimization analysis, completed and presented to the commission in June, recommended that the city construct two new fire stations — one in northwestern Lawrence and one in south-central Lawrence — and relocate Station No. 3, which is currently near Sixth Street and Kasold Drive, further north and east to Iowa Street. 

Seamus Albritton, president of the firefighters union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1596, asked commissioners to please take the recommendation to add more fire stations seriously, and to act on the need during their next budget cycle. 

“What we can’t out-train for, or out-innovate, is not getting there in time to even make a difference,” Albritton said. 

He said that was what the study was about, and those are the things the city needs to address.

“We’re going to need more ambulances and we’re going to need more people to do that,” Albritton said. “I know everybody here knows that, and I trust that that is a priority. We’re just asking for the tools to continue to do the good job that we’re already doing.”

The expense would be $30 million in capital — such as buildings and equipment, generally one-time expenses — and $5.5 million in additional operating expenses.

There was no action for the commission to take on the update, but the 2023 budget process has begun its early phases. A calendar of key dates is available at this link; more budget information is available here.


Commissioner Brad Finkeldei asked Fagan if the department has statistics for how many people have signed up for PulsePoint, an app that can send an alert to users who are in the vicinity of someone experiencing cardiac arrest. 

The department started using the app in October. 

Bystander intervention — someone performing CPR on a person who goes into cardiac arrest until first responders arrive — can save lives and greatly improve the quality of life after a heart attack. Without bloodflow to the brain, permanent damage is probable within six to 10 minutes; brain death is likely within 10 minutes, according to information Fagan shared with the commission. 

Fagan did not have user numbers on hand, but he did share bystander intervention statistics: He said Lawrence tends to see a 25% bystander intervention rate for cardiac arrests in public locations. The national average is around 40%, Fagan said. 

“When bystander CPR is performed, it increases the chances of survival by three times and so that’s something we’re actively working on, is getting that message out,” he said. 

LDCFM has some CPR resources on its website at this link.

The free PulsePoint app is available from the App Store and Google Play. It also includes locations of AED devices. Learn more about the app in this article from November or on the PulsePoint website here.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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