Letter to the Editor: Fire Station relocation should be based on data

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A professor of mine once told our class that one of the most expensive mistakes a city can make is putting a fire station in the wrong place. That professor, Dr. B.J. Thompson, had been the fire chief in Santa Fe Springs, Santa Ana, and Atlanta. Additionally, he was the city manager in Santa Ana and the administrator of the United States Fire Administration. As such, he was well qualified to make that assessment.

With the need to rebuild or relocate the South Laguna fire station and a growing list of possible new sites, the City of Laguna Beach has an opportunity to avoid an expensive mistake. The City should take this opportunity to make a data based decision regarding the relocation of the South Laguna fire station, and perhaps, even evaluate the City’s current arrangement of fire stations. While the current arrangement of the City’s four fire stations may intuitively seem correct, in actuality, it may not be. I’ve completed fire station location studies for the cities of Stanton, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. In each of those cities, the data didn’t always support the assumptions that were believed to be true. 

A comprehensive fire station location study should also consider the adequacy of the City’s current agreements for the provision of ladder truck service from the Newport Beach Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority. Fire department effectiveness at any structure fire is greatly enhanced by the simultaneous, or near-simultaneous arrival of both engine and truck companies. The current agreements with Newport Beach Fire and the County Fire Authority for truck company service results in extended response times that are beyond the eight to ten minute national response time standard. A station location study might show that an arrangement of stations that deploys three fire engines and one ladder truck would better serve Laguna Beach than its current deployment of four fire engines and a delayed ladder truck.  

The Laguna Beach Fire Department has years of response time data that would allow an analyst to model a variety of possible fire station locations and deployment configurations. Before settling on a “best guess” location for the South Laguna Fire Station, the City should use its historical response data to assist them with their decision making so that they might confidently select a station location and deployment model which best meets the City’s needs.

Steve Bunting, Honolulu, Hawaii

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