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Fire Chief Releases Timeline on Orinda Fire

It shows 6 minutes, 6 seconds, from end of dispatch to Engine 43 and Engine 45 arriving at the scene; Moraga-Orinda Fire District press release responds to criticism about promptness at Sunday's fire on El Gavilan Road.

The fire chief has released a timeline of the response to in response to criticism about the speed of the response.

In a second news release about the fire in the hills, Moraga-Orinda Fire District Chief Randy Bradley stated that he understands the dynamic when residents await emergency resources. “When a home is burning and other homes are threatened, time has a tendency to 'stand still' and seconds become minutes," said Bradley. "I am sure it felt like it took our engines an eternity to arrive, but we actually arrived within six minutes and six seconds of the completed dispatch.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation. No injuries were reported.

In a piece written for the Mirador, the school newspaper at Miramonte High, Liz Berndt gave a first-person perspective of the terror of the fire as a neighbor whose house was threatened by the potential for the fire spread. The fire didn't spread: "The fire was quickly contained to the building of origin but required several hours to completely extinguish due to the home's construction features," stated the MOFD news release.

Around dawn Sunday morning, Berndt writes, she scrambled to put her contacts in, put shoes on and flee the house, and then "6:41 a.m. 'Hello? Hello? Thank God. Where are the fire trucks? I called over ten minutes ago!"

Later in the piece, she writes, "Approximately 7:12 a.m. hoses finally come on. I don't understand it. I don't understand what took so long. I don't understand why the firemen seemed so nonchalant. And I don't understand why the house burned for almost 40 minutes between the first call and the first sign of water."

Timeline

Bradley gave this timeline:

  • 6:40:24              End of Dispatch
  • 6:41:55               Engine 43 (Charles Hill Station) Responding
  • 6:46:30               Engine 43 and Engine 45 (Orinda Way Station) arrived at the scene
  • (Engine 45 was returning from another emergency when the call was dispatched).   

Bradley also made available on the MOFD website a recording of the radio transmissions that morning, including some discussion of truck access difficulties in the narrow streets at the site.

At the time of the fire — the end of a long holiday weekend — family friends were staying at the house while the homeowners, the Otsmaa family, were away.

Steve Cohn November 29, 2012 at 03:45 PM
@PM - as @Concerned Neighbor said below "my comment was not meant as an attack, merely a question." I was commenting on the ability of sprinklers in residential structures to ameliorate the impact of fires in those structures. I did not say that they would replace the need for emergency responders for all types of emergencies nor eliminate house fires. But, instead of requiring 28 firefighters to respond to a single house fire in 6 minutes (which, even in the best of conditions which this event seemed to be, took over 15 minutes including dispatch time), it would give firefighters more time to respond, occupants more time to flee, and, in most cases, keep the need for firefighters down to putting out the stubborn "in wall" or "in attic" fires. (@PM - what are the statistics of injuries and deaths in sprinklered single family residences?) Other than vegetation fires, which require regional resources to deal with, how many incidents can be dealt with by one or two first responders, not the standard 3-on-an-engine? Due to pension and other retirement benefit liabilities, the community's ability to pay for what we have is being stressed. If some stations could be staffed with two instead of three responders because there was extra time to respond to the rare structure fire, then the vast majority of incidents which are not structure fires could be better dealt with. What is the matter with exploring new ideas to retain or even improve emergency response capabilities?
Ann November 29, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Thanks for the info, Kelley. I just put that number in my cell.
Steve Cohn November 29, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I think Kelley Dwyer pretty emphatically stated above that if it took ten minutes that was not due to ConFire Dispatch but if the call went from a cell phone, through the CHP dispatch system (and then through the Sherriffs office) before it hit ConFire, maybe it could have. If so, "D in Lafayette" says it wasn't the first time (and probably not the last). The Orinda Task Force has posted a description of the dispatch system (http://orindataskforce.org/mofd-dispatch-system). The number Dwyer posted above (925-933-1313), bypassing both the CHP's and the Sherriff's dispatchers, should be in everyone's cell phone. I am amazed it is not widely advertised.
PM November 29, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Mr Cohn, Regardless of the fact that fire sprinklers do save lives and property, there are many other reasons why we staff and respond in the manner we do. Those are community driven, operational, and safet/legal regulations. Shortly after the district was formed, the community was provided a number of different service models to choose from. They decided that our current model was the level of service they wanted to protect their lives and property. The optimal number of firefighters on an engine is 4 on an engine, 6 on a truck. Most agencies use 3 like us. You need a minimum of 3 to safely perform an attack on an interior structure fire. The engineer drives, and operates the pump. The firefighter and officer pull hose lines and provide rescue if neede. They can't complete all the tasks alone. They need back up by additional personnel in order to safely mitigate the fire. Those tasks are basically: rescue, exposure protection, confinement, extinguishment, ventilation, salvage and overhaul. continued ....
Janet Maiorana November 29, 2012 at 09:17 PM
For years citizens have requested answers to questions about our emergency services. When will the Orinda City Council form the much requested and needed Orinda Task Force to give us answers or do they just kick the can down the road?.
Kelley Dwyer November 29, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Unfortunately, the information that in in the link "(http://orindataskforce.org/mofd-dispatch-system)" is not correct. If someone calls 911 from a cell phone they will get the CHP dispatch center in Benicia. (Some Jurisdiction PSAP's are starting to take over answering Cell Phone 911's) If CHP happens to be the one who answers a cell 911 in Moraga or Orinda (one of the following things will happen) - They will handle it - They will transfer to CCSO for Police related matters - They will transfer to Con Fire dispatch for Fire and Medical related issues. (they DO NOT transfer a fire to CCSO and then CCSO transfer to ConFire) I actually happened to work at CHP for 8 years prior to coming to ConFire. If you have a question about the System, I would be more than happy to answer it for you if I can. CHP dispatchers in Benicia answer calls for 9 bay area counties. At times the 911 cellular system is taxed because there are so many people calling in at the same time. There are a limited number of dispatchers on duty at CHP, at times there can be so many calls coming in, that there MIGHT be a delay in answering the call. Usually, the incident has already been reported, but sometimes, that 1 call that might be for a different incident, may be caught amongst all the other people calling in. I will use the example of a car fire on Hwy 24 at the 680 interchange during the 4 pm hr. Calls like this can generate 20-30 or more 911 calls for the same fire.
Kelley Dwyer November 29, 2012 at 09:41 PM
I would like to also reiterate... People that are in emergency situations or seeing traumatic things have a skewed sense of time. When a 911 medical call is generated at ConFire there is actually a timer that starts. We see that timer 200+ times a day. When people are seeing something as traumatic as their house burning to the ground, seconds seem like minutes.
PM November 29, 2012 at 09:57 PM
There are regulations that protect firefighters. One of these is state code 29 CFR 1910, which is a respiratory regulation. Otherwise known as the "2 in 2 out" rule. It basically states that when firefighters make entry into a structure fire they need to have 2 personnel outside who are in constant communication with them. This is to provide rescue of those firefighters if they become lost, injured or trapped. Without the 2 out, there would be a delay in saving property. There's nothing wrong with exploring new ideas to improve emergency response. I'm fully in favor of that. However You'd be hard pressed to do that by reducing staff, and therefore reducing service levels. I don't feel that is something the community is in support of. Thanks for your input and the opportunity to provide some education. I feel that the more the community understands what and why we do things, the fewer misconceptions there will be about us.
Steve Cohn November 29, 2012 at 10:13 PM
The Task Force report was just reporting on what the LAFCO report published, reviewed by all the agencies it was reporting on. That was 2009. Maybe things have changed. Since we are talking MOFD we are talking Orinda & Moraga. By the way; I am not arguing with you here; I just want to understand how the system works, as do most people, and we appreciate the resource you are providing. A cell phone call to 911 goes out. Does it go to CHP (Benecia) or possibly somewhere else (you say "if CHP happens to be the one")? Let's say it is a fire. Where does it go then? Directly to ConFire dispatch or does it or can it make an intermediate stop? (what is CCSO?) How about a land line call (again; from Orinda and/or Moraga). What is its route? Can that be delayed? The big question is (1) Can a call take up to ten minutes to dispatch, bouncing from one agency/dispatcher to another? (2 commentators on the Patch say yes - maybe Liz Berndt can check her call records to see when she actually made the first call. Time flies when you are excited but her account had some pretty exact times. Appears she was actually looking at her watch.) (2) Is there a way to short circuit the process - you say call 925-933-1313; is this something MOFD should publicize as a recommendation or is there a downside to this (other than accidentally calling ConFire for a police issue).
Steve Cohn November 29, 2012 at 10:49 PM
This is not a hypothetical; this is reality. For every one structure fire in the MOFD service area there are 80 code 3 medical emergencies. Nationally, for every one fire injury or death there are 150 heart attacks or strokes. Nationally, for every one fire death there are 250 heart attack and stroke deaths. If our stations were manned by two per engine as opposed to three we could have 50% more stations; 50% lower response time; with the same number of firefighters (the cost of whom account for the vast majority of the costs of running MOFD; not stations; not equipment.) In order to get four firefighters on the scene so that a two-in / two-out regimen can be exercised, takes two engines whether there are two or three on the engine (unless a Battalion Chief, fully geared, is available.) Further, if all residences were sprinklered so that even more victims could self evacuate because of the great reduction in noxious gasses and heat creating less cause of incapacitation, the need for the first responders to enter a burning building would further decrease and chance of flashover endangering the lives of firefighters entering later (according to Chief Bradley) would be zero. I fully agree with you that there is a real need for the community to better understand what is required not just in fighting fires but in providing for the entire array of emergency service needs.
Robert L November 30, 2012 at 09:55 PM
I think that most (if not all) public safety professionals are in favor of residential sprinklers. They save lives, reduce property damage due to fire, and help reduce the potential for flashovers endangering firefighting personnel. Unfortunately, they wouldn't do much to reduce staffing needed from fire department response. PM has done a decent job explaining the "two-in, two-out" regulation. There are other considerations as well. The first fire engine to arrive needs to provide a water-supply from a fire hydrant. This takes time, and requires at least one firefighter (for ease of description, I will refer to firefighters in general, as opposed to their specific ranks/positions). In agencies with 3 personnel per apparatus, before anyone can enter a building on fire, there needs to be 2 engines, with at least 3 personnel. Next, to support the firefighting effort, work must be done to exhaust the heat and gasses from the structure, otherwise they will spread the fire to multiple locations within the structure (usually hidden, and/or attic spaces). This work is typically done by a "truck" company of, which has the tools and ladders necessary for this type of work. The truck company is also typically responsible for search for occupants, shutting off gas and electricity, and other various tasks. Four personnel make the truck company able to do multiple tasks at one time. With only three, only one job can be done at a time by the crew as they must work in teams of at least two.
Robert L November 30, 2012 at 10:19 PM
As these crews work in the building, there must also be a "Rapid Intervention Crew" posted outside the structure, to rescue personnel in the case of entrapment or disoriented interior crews. This crew is not related to the original "two-in, two-out" crew, but does serve that requirement upon their arrival. Finally, a third engine company should be on-scene for any emergency tasks that become necessary after all the other crews have been committed to fireground tasks. These numbers all assume that things are going well. If the fire has extended to a second floor, or is threatening other structures, extra engine and truck companies become a necessity. Ironically, if the home has sprinklers, more tasks need to be completed to shut off the water, clean up, and restore the sprinkler system to operational readiness. Regarding medical emergencies, three personnel is a minimum, end even then not optimal for handling significant medical emergencies. For those medical calls where a person has a stomach-ache, or has a minor medical problem, two firefighters can provide care while one collects information on the injury, medical history, and communicates their needs and actions to their dispatch and the responding ambulance. Any medical that requires advanced medical care really taxes a crew of three. CPR, for example, requires one for chest compressions, one for administering medications, etc., one (should be two) for rescue breathing, one for medical history and writing/communication.
Robert L November 30, 2012 at 10:30 PM
All of these tasks must be completed before an ambulance arrives. Ambulances in Alameda County (I think also CoCo County) are staffed by an EMT and one Paramedic. Two Paramedics are required for Advanced Life Support, so you cannot remove the Paramedic from the engine company. If the parient is heavy, and/or if there are many stairs, which is not at all uncommon, there must be at least three personnel to transport the patient to street level. Many private ambulances do not staff an ambulance with personnel based upon ability to carry heavy patients, but depend upon the fire department to assist. If the emergency involves a vehicle accident, in addition to all the medical care, the vehicle must be stabilized, vehicles may need to be physically manipulated to enable victims to be removed, etc. None of the tasks I have described can wait until someone gets to the scene and then requests extra resources. This is why fire departments respond more apparatus than is commonly needed once the actual emergency needs are determined. People should not have to wait for emergency services that they need now. I hope all of this helps. The services provided by MOFD are excellent, but by no means are they overstaffed for the expected jobs they perform.
Steve Cohn December 01, 2012 at 04:35 PM
@Robert L - Thank you for the primer on what it takes to fight a fire. For those of us not on the inside we have little appreciation for the complexities. However, the fact still exists that for every one structure/house fire there are 99 other time-critical emergencies that require other protocols. 80 of these are medical emergencies that do not threaten personal property but can threaten human life to a greater extent than a structure fire. In addition to attending these emergencies with the correct skill set(s), time is as, if not more, critical an element as it is in addressing a fire. Therefore, spreading out the responders so that a first responder can arrive sooner rather than later still seems, to me, a good idea. So I ask the question: if the firefighters arrived at a house fire in groups of two in an appropriate aggregate number with appropriate aggregate skill sets and equipment, would they be substantially less effective than if they arrived in groups of three?
Robert L December 01, 2012 at 05:26 PM
@Steve - You have posed a question that we struggle with quite a bit even inside the business. Is it better to have four people on one engine, or two people on each of two engines? I don't have a solid fact-based answer. First, the benefits as I see them: More apparatus spread out over more firehouses provides shorter response times to more addresses. That would be the driving purpose for the change in service delivery. Another benefit would be the ability to diversify the apparatus types over more firehouses. Apparatus (apparatii?) can be fairly specialized, and diversifying the livery could be a benefit. The downsides (again my opinion) are many: As you move personnel away from the "existing" firehouses to add locations, you actually diminish the response capabilities of those firehouses. If I live close to a firehouse with three or four, and you propose to reduce it to two, I am not going to like it. As I discussed above, two personnel simply cannot handle the tasks necessary for a significant medical, and certainly not for a structure fire or vehicle accident. Those people who live close to one of the "new" two person firehouses will be happy, but only to the extent that they need help with a relatively minor emergency. As one who is in charge of the responding engines, I don't want 10 apparatus with two people each coming to my fire. Especially in Orinda, the streets would be blocked for 1/4 mile, and make my strategies more complicated.
Robert L December 01, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Additionally, keeping track of all the resources, and their unique radio identifiers will be not fun, with no real addition of task capability. In my experience, trying to match up personnel from multiple engines to work as a cohesive team does not provide the same functionality as having them arrive and work together. It can be done, and the personnel are capable, but it is not quite the same. Finally, moving to more engines with fewer people adds to the infrastructure requirements. Establishing a new firehouse in a residential area is only slightly easier than starting a drug rehab or new lighted ballpark in the same area. Add to that the expense of the new apparatus, maintenance and utilities for a new firehouse, etc. The expense, in my opinion, is not worth the small benefit of adding resources to under-served areas. Reducing staffing overall within a department would save money, but the risk to the community is too great. I live in Orinda, and am very happy with the services provided. However, I think that the number of engines is already at the bare minimum.
Steve Cohn December 01, 2012 at 07:52 PM
@ Robert L - thank you for your forthrightness. Regarding change - you are right, very few want change especially if that change is not to their advantage even if it is better for the whole. When MOFD was formed in 1997, one of the reasons was that Orinda residents wanted better ambulance service; like Moraga was getting. They got it. However, rather than the District's one full-time ambulance being moved from Moraga to mid-district (Station 44) until the district could afford to staff two (ten years down the road), the one ambulance stayed in Moraga (even though Orinda taxpayers were providing over 60% of the District's funds) and the downtown Orinda station was cross-staffed to provide both ambulance service and fire suppression. When the Orinda ambulance was transporting, Station 45 was empty. For whatever reason, the Directors representing Orinda residents would not demand change from Moraga. However, if protocol B is better than protocol A, and if we were creating the district from whole cloth and B would be the one chosen, then those in charge should explain the need for change to the users and make that change. If a majority of the users disagree and vote those in charge out of office for making the change, that is called democracy. Either those in charge made a bad decision or did not explain it well enough. The risk of this is no reason not to effect change if it is for the better.
Steve Cohn December 01, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Right now 40% of all time critical incidents in Orinda are not serviced within the six minute target response time. We obviously do not have enough stations spread out enough. We have three stations with 3-person staffs and one station with a 5-person / 2 unit staff. Something is calling out for change. But the change, as in ConFire, may be going in the wrong direction. As Table IV-3 of the Task Force report (www.OrindaTaskForce.org) shows, MOFD would have to pay over $300,000 per firefighter to cover salaries, benefits, and to fully fund underfunded but already vested retirement benefits. Multiply this by three shifts of 19 firefighters and you come up with an amount almost equal to MOFD's total revenue. No money left over for equipment, operational expenses, or administration. Something has to give. More revenue, continued deferment of future liabilities, or fewer or lower paid employees. ConFire, right now, is choosing fewer employees. They are going to discuss, Tuesday afternoon, the closing of four stations so as to reduce firefighter staffing from about 90 (30 stations with 3 each) to 26 stations with three each (72 per shift). An alternative would be to reduce staffing in 12 stations by one person and turn those stations into 2-person stations still capable of first-responder action for most emergencies. They are being forced to change and make the tough decisions. MOFD may also have to make those choices in the not too distant future.
Steve Cohn December 01, 2012 at 08:27 PM
oops, bad math. 26 x 3 = 90 - 12 = 78, not 72.
Concerned Neighbor December 02, 2012 at 09:07 AM
Lots and lots of helpful information- still the question lingers, why so long to get to work on the fire once your there? Did it take 30 minutes to get water on the fire at 28 El Gavilan or is the timeline wrong? Someone must have that info. This is just a question not an accusation.
Robert L December 02, 2012 at 09:56 AM
I have no specific information regarding this fire, other than what I have read here on Patch.
Kelley Dwyer December 03, 2012 at 05:04 AM
06:36 HOURS - The original call came in from the resident up the street from a landline - No cell phone involved - That 911 call would have gone to CCSO (Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office) and woulld have been immediately transferred to Con Fire 06:40 HOURS E143 reported while en-route to the incident that there was smoke 1 mile out E143 arrived on-scene to report the structure was fully involved. - When arriving on-scene of a structure that is fully involved the Captain has the responsibility of making decisions of whether to go into offensive or defensive mode (please see attached article for a better explanation of offensive vs. defensive mode) - It ultimately comes down to a decision of risk vs. gain. When a structure is fully involved and all occupants are out of the house, the priority would be to protect any adjacent structures from the fire. They do this by going into Defensive mode (in very basic terms – fighting the fire from the exterior of the house) 06:46 HOURS - A supply line was laid by the 2nd unit (E145) 06:56 hrs - Once E145 arrived on scene, they hooked up the supply line (from the Hydrant) to E143. - At that point E143 would switch over from pumping from their tank to pumping from the hydrant - This line allows for continued flow of water to the structure
Kelley Dwyer December 03, 2012 at 05:07 AM
06:56 hrs the IC (incident commander) reported that they were in defensive mode. This means they had already started attacking the fire (water on the fire) So best estimate, there was water on the fire sometime between 06:43 (7 minutes from time of call) and 06:56 hrs (20 minutes from the original time of call). Again, once it is determined that the house is completely involved the priorities on the fire scene change. When going into defensive mode the following is taken into account: -it has been determined that it is an “unsafe structure without civilian rescue impacts”. On this incident it was reported by the occupants (friends of the owner) that everyone was out of the house - The house is determined to be “unsafe for firefighter entry” -“Fire is beyond the control of hand lines”
Kelley Dwyer December 03, 2012 at 05:08 AM
http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-attack/articles/499269-Fireground-Tactics-Offensive-vs-Defensive
Kelley Dwyer December 03, 2012 at 05:08 AM
I hope this explains things a little more; I can assure you that each and every person that takes this job, does the best they can. They perform their duties to the best of their abilities with the resources that they have. The second guessing and nit picking that goes on is not productive and very frustrating to see. I am sure that the poor family that lost their house in this fire does not appreciate being dragged through the emotional roller coaster of false accusations that are being made on here. The firefighters are out there to protect the citizens of this County. I think it would really be a wonderful to see if this community would be a little more appreciative of the job these people do for you. Three of the firefighters from your district were injured today while trying to help others. I personally know 2 of the 3, it absolutely breaks my heart that anyone would think they do not give their all to the job that they do.
Robert L December 03, 2012 at 05:16 AM
Thanks for the timeline, Kelley. It is predictable, and understandable, for people who are waiting for help to feel like it takes longer than it really does.
Kelley Dwyer December 03, 2012 at 09:57 AM
You're welcome Robert. Yes I agree, as I stated above when people are involved in emergencies, seconds seem like minutes. There is a often a distortion in the perception of time for those that are experiencing emergencies.
Steve Cohn December 03, 2012 at 05:47 PM
So to reiterate the original time line and Ms. Dwyer's new info: 6:36 call comes in from a land line to CCSO (Contra Costa Sherriff's Office) ???? call goes to ConFire Dispatch 6:40:24 dispatch from ConFire Dispatch to MOFD Engine 43 (Charles Hill Station) Total dispatch time (from land line) about 4 minutes 6:41:55 Engine 43 on route (can you get out of bed and on the road in 90 seconds at 6:30 on Sunday AM? WOW!!) 6:46:30 Engine 43 (and Engine 45) arrive at scene Response time from time of dispatch - 6:06 minutes Total response time from time of call, about 10 minutes Observations: The 2009 LAFCO report stated that ConFire dispatch processed 90% of all calls within 2:12 minutes 90% of the time. LAFCO could not ascertain the time the CCSO took to process calls before passing them onto ConFire but it appears in this case that was about another two minutes. It is unclear what the path a call made on a cell phone takes (possibly to the CHP, then to CCSO, then to ConFire) but apparently that takes longer, sometimes a lot longer. Ms. Dwyer offered a phone number (925-933-1313) that goes directly to ConFire dispatch, bypassing both CCSO and CHP. It would be nice to hear from MOFD as to whether this is an appropriate number to call. It certainly sounds advantageous cutting two or more minutes off of the dispatch time.
Steve Cohn December 03, 2012 at 05:47 PM
The six minute response time (from time of dispatch) that this emergency experienced is in line with MOFD's standards and industry standards. The reason for this six minute goal, for both structure fires and medical emergencies, is described in MOFD's 2006 "Standards of Coverage" report (http://g.virbcdn.com/_f/files/c5/FileItem-265334-ExhibitIII1MOFD_standards_of_coverage_report.pdf). However, it can be seen that the dispatch time adds a significant increment to the response time turning a six minute response time into a ten minute one and, according to the report, for both fires and heart attacks, ten minutes is sometimes just too late. Minutes really count for the first responder.
Steve Cohn December 03, 2012 at 05:48 PM
In addition, according to the Orinda Task Force report (Table III-4, www.OrindaTaskForce.org) about 39% of all responses to time critical emergencies in Orinda (800 per year) are in excess of the 6 minute response (from time of dispatch, not call made). 16% (130) take between 6 and 7 minutes; 10% (80) between seven and eight minutes; 5% (40) between eight and nine minutes; And 8% (60) are over nine minutes. Add four or more minutes to each of those response times for dispatch. Maybe there is nothing we can do about this due to the spread-out nature of the city. We have been served by the same three fire stations since MOFD was formed and long before that so nothing has been done from the physical location of response units aspect and according to the long range financial plan nothing is on the drawing board for the next 15 years to change that. Maybe a direct-dial number to dispatch can help. Maybe there are other options. I believe that this is a serious topic for the MOFD to consider and for our City leaders to participate in.

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