It would take more than four minutes for South Shore Fire personnel to reach thousands of Mount Pleasant residents in an emergency, according to maps developed using data from the joint dispatch center.
The maps were put together in an effort to get a firmer grip on the department's expected overtime in 2012—now expected to be as much as $500,000 over budget—and to evaluate whether fire stations are located and staffed appropriately.
What village staffers, committee members and SSFD brass discovered was that the densely populated northeast corner of the village is well outside optimal four- and six-minute response times from all four stations.
"I am flabbergasted with these maps and what they represent," said Fire/EMS chair Rick McCluskey.
To make the maps, village officials used calls answered from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012. Calls were plotted on the maps and represented by different colored dots that corresponded each with stations 7 (Lake Park), 8 (SSFD headquarters), 9 (Sturtevant) and 10 (joint with Caledonia).
"The key is to show the nexus between the locations, the calls and who responds," said Interim Administrator Ron Meyer. "Then we need to look at response rates to see if it's appropriate to close stations or redeploy personnel to best address the needs of the citizens of both Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant."
The four- and six-minute response times are not a local, state or federal mandate, but are the target, Battalion Chief Jon Keiser said, because of the risk of a patient dying in the case of a heart attack.
"The four-to-six-minute response is driven by the American Heart Association because of the risk of brain death if emergency response is delayed for a heart attack," he said.
More, unless or until Mount Pleasant decides to allocate the funds for a new station, response times in that northeast corner will remain seven minutes or more.
"We can look at response times and some personnel changes, but the value of the map is limited because until the villages decide to relocate stations, we’re not going to improve those response times," Keiser added.
The ideal location for another station would be near the intersection of Neumann Road and Spring Street.
Meyer said this was the first he'd heard of a station needed, but Trustee Karen Albeck said she got a copy of a 2006 study initiated by the International Association of Fire Fighters that clearly spells out where future stations should be located: at Neumann Road and Spring Street and then at Highways 20 and V.
And while the 2009 McGrath study that led to the South Shore consolidation agreement incorporated some of this information, that original study was never shared with trustees from either Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant. No one at the meeting knew why.
There was some discussion about closing Station 7 in Lake Park, moving that crew to Station 8 and using Lake Park instead as administrative offices, and even reducing the number of on-duty crews in three stations.
But Interim Fire Chief Mark Pierce said going that route could significantly raise insurance rates for homeowners. Mount Pleasant is currently rated six out of 10 while Sturtevant sits at four out of 10. Reducing staff will lower both villages to a four.
"Putting everyone at a four would cause everyone's insurance rates to go up," he said. "That has a significant impact on our community as a whole."
Mount Pleasant Trustee John Hewitt, a former insurance agent, agreed that rates will rise if staffing is reduced, but asked that the villages undergo another, more up-to-date study to determine station location and staffing needs.
"I would caution against reducing crews because that will raise insurance rates for both residential and commercial," he said. "Perhaps more discussion and another study needs to be done before any decisions are made; we shouldn’t be reducing staff or closing stations without all that information."
He also encouraged the villages to start planning for the growth that is almost guaranteed in the next five years.
"We should consider in the next five years residents in our South Shore jurisdiction will be close to 40,000 so we will need another station and now is the time to start planning for it," he said.
McCluskey ended the discussion without any motions or action taken, but said the information is a good place to start for planning.