The Scottsdale Fire Department marked a smooth first year on Saturday, improving response times by at least 13 seconds over its predecessor and experiencing no fatalities caused by blazes.
Integrating its fire response simultaneously with Professional Medical Transport ambulance service in February, average response times are 4:17 minutes, Fire Chief William McDonald said.
Scottsdale’s previous fire service provider, the privately owned Rural/Metro Fire Department, had an average response time of about 4:30 minutes last year in Scottsdale, said Alison Cooper, Rural/Metro spokeswoman.
City Manager Jan Dolan said she is pleased with how the city has handled the transition and implementation of its own fire department.
“The transition of having our own fire department and the first year has gone very well,” Dolan said. “There have been no serious problems, well, no problems. O ur response times are down, our training is up, and we’re going to continue to make improvements.”
Saying goodbye to Rural/ Metro was a big step for Scottsdale, which had used the company’s service for more than 50 years.
The company became a target of a voter initiative launched in 2003 by firefighters funded by their unions. Voters in the city rejected the proposal to oust Rural/Metro, but six months later, Rural/ Metro announced it no longer could accommodate the needs of fast-growing Scottsdale.
When Rural/Metro’s contract expired at midnight on July 1, 2005, a new era in firefighting began in the city. And Rural/Metro continued to serve much of the northeast Valley.
Scottsdale already owned 13 fire stations throughout the city as well as pumper and ladder trucks, but it spent $6 million for protective equipment and improving radio dispatch systems, McDonald said.
McDonald answered the call to come to Scottsdale after working in Fremont, Calif., as that city’s fire chief.
“We knew a year was coming up on us, and it happened quick,” McDonald said. “Our No. 1 goal was to transition on time, and following City Council’s goals, we wanted to enhance our services and improve our response times. When I left Fremont, I just didn’t want to come here and duplicate services. I wanted to make sure we were creating a department of our own. We’ve been lucky.”
The fire department is operating on a $26.7 million annual budget, which mostly comes from the city’s General Fund. As of May 31, the department came in under budget by 21 percent, McDonald said.
More improvements lie ahead, he said, including a new fire station at East Indian School Road near Miller Road, which should be completed by early 2007.
About 200 of Scottsdale’s 259 fire positions were filled with Rural/Metro personnel, said Dave Cieslak, department spokesman.
“The new employees have integrated very well. People are now positioned strategically around the city to increase the level of service,” Dolan said.
In the fall, a recruitment process will begin to put 20 more firefighters in place by next year, and on July 20, the city’s Development Review Board will discuss plans for a $3.5 million station at 7552 E. Indian School Road.
McDonald said the City Council on Sept. 26 will begin to review the fire department’s new station location study.
Between two to four new stations are proposed as part of the strategic goals for the department’s future.