Twelve years ago, PF&R set the goal to arrive at 90 percent of emergencies, including fires and medical emergencies like heart attacks, within five minutes and 20 seconds of the dispatch call. This new audit gives the PF&R high marks in safety and all other aspects of their work, but shows that fire crews only turn up by the 5:20 mark at emergencies 75 percent of the time. In situations where every second matters, that means more property damage and potentially more lives lost.
To blame are hills, for one, and the PF&R's policy of slowing for red lights and green lights even with sirens ablazing to make sure intersections are safe before speeding through. Response times were the worst in hilly SW Portland and swaths of North and Northeast Portland. Check out this map to see where times were the worst.
The audit (pdf) determined that one of the factors in slowing emergency response is, surprise surprise, money. The budget for PF&R has grown proportionally to workload and population increases: while PF&R’s expenditures increased 3 percent from 2005 to 2009, incidents increased 13 percent and population increased 4.6 percent. The firefighters are stretching their resources between more people and more emergencies, and that means arriving at some blazes too late.