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Phoenix Fire Department tackles recruitment hurdles amid focus to reduce average response times

Photo of Phoenix Fire Department
The Phoenix Fire Department responds to more than 300,000 calls for service across all seven districts of the municipality on an annual basis with an estimated 363,421 to occur this calendar year. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Phoenix Fire Department reports average ambulance response times at 10 minutes
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Phoenix Fire Department officials Wednesday, May 1, presented to the Phoenix City Council Subcommittee on Public Safety and Justice latest recruitment numbers, response times — and plans to improve both municipal metrics.

Fire Department leaders continue to decipher and implement new strategies to boost recruitment efforts and improve certain response times, in particular ambulatory calls for service.

The Public Safety and Justice subcommittee is chaired by District 1 Councilwoman Ann O’Brien with fellow elected leaders Councilman Jim Waring (District 2); Councilman Kevin Robinson (District 6); and Councilwoman Betty Guardado (District 5) as participating members.

Ranging from 21st century cadet recruitment efforts, a dissection of myriad response time factors and future developments in telehealth, Fire Department officials — Executive Assistant Fire Chief Scott Walker and Deputy Fire Chief Reda Riddle-Bigler — delivered details of every level of the organization.

As of March 2024 there are a total of 1,870 sworn positions approved at the Phoenix Fire Department whereas a total of 1,756 of the sworn full-time positions are filled. Since FY 2016-17, the Fire Department’s budget has improved by 70 percent, growing from $309 million to $527 million.

“We have worked hard to keep the gap narrow in hiring and training the bodies we are approved for,” Deputy Chief Riddle-Bigler told the subcommittee. “You may notice a significant gap between authorized and filled positions and this is due to the most recent approvals by mayor and council for 48 positions for the rescuer program reinvented.”

Numbers above show recruitment numbers at the Phoenix Fire Department. (Graphic Courtesy: city of Phoenix/DigitalFreePress)


Deputy Chief Riddle-Bigler presented data points as far back as 2015 illustrating a steady decline in recruitment interest at the Phoenix Fire Department — a recent phenomena impacting cadet classes across the country with the local department no exception.

Numbers show in 2015 the Phoenix Fire Department saw a total of 2,477 applicants to its cadet academy meanwhile this year that number sits at 1,105.

“The average is 40% of those who apply make our eligibility list,” Deputy Chief Riddle-Bigler said. “It is apparent in the graph there is a downtrend in the numbers; however, we are fortunate we are still able to fulfill vacancies and we remain proactive in our recruitment efforts”

Deputy Chief Riddle-Biggler explains 100% staffing levels is the No. 1 priority of recruitment efforts, but with current data trends, Councilman Waring is concerned, he says.

“Over 1,300 fewer applicants?” he asked pointing out a trend line showing fewer recruits passing qualifying mental and physical exams. “It is concerning to me the drop in people who are taking and passing the test. It is not a huge drop, but it is 10% and with the drop in applicants that trend over time is a disaster.”

Assistant Chief Walker says he and Fire Department leadership acknowledge the depleting tread line.

“We are acutely aware of what we are seeing,” he told the subcommittee. “It is not how many people applied but how many quality applicants applied — it is our responsibility to manage and watch this and we believe we are making changes to address that.”

Read the report for yourself HERE.

Phoenix Fire Department response times reported

United Phoenix Firefighters Local 493 President Bryan Willingham offered impassioned comments regarding the efforts of local fire fighters — and struggles with meeting national response time standards.

“We are not doing what our city demands,” Mr. Willingham said during the May 1 subcommittee hearing at City Hall.

“Whether it’s your mom having a stroke, your dad having a heart attack or your baby drowning in a pool — nobody should have to wait 7 minutes. It is unacceptable, we are not doing what our community deserves I can’t phrase that any other way.”

Assistant Chief Walker explains the city of Phoenix is a growing a community now part of the major metropolitan areas of the nation.

“Response time is the key performance indicator for the fire service,” he told the members of the subcommittee. “It is what we hold ourselves against to know if we are performing and meeting the needs of our community.”

Phoenix Fire Department response times are:

  • The average response time for a Phoenix engine company call out for service is 7 minutes and 19 seconds;
  • The average response time for a Phoenix ladder apparatus call out for service is 7 minutes and 20 seconds; and
  • The average response time for a Phoenix FD ambulance call out for service is 10 minutes and 43 seconds.

The National Fire Protection Association states these guidelines for average response times:

  • The average response time for an engine company should be 5 minutes and 20 seconds.
  • The average response time for a ladder apparatus should be 9 minutes and 20 seconds.
  • The average response time for an ambulance rescue should be 5 minutes.

Assistant Chief Walker explains he is optimistic response times will improve.

“The good news is we have been relatively stable,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are not meeting the standards … this is the reality of response times in our city.”

The Phoenix Fire Department responds to more than 300,000 calls for service across all seven districts of the municipality on an annual basis with an estimated 363,421 to occur this calendar year.

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