Northwest Fire District’s governing board approved a contract for Michael J. Brandt to become its fire chief, dropping the “interim” from his current title when the two-year contract kicks in on May 28.
Brandt has served as interim fire chief since Oct. 6 of last year, after the retirement of fire chief Jeff Piechura.
Brandt has served more than 35 years in fire and EMS (emergency medical service) roles in the Tucson area, including positions as Northwest Fire’s assistant chief of operations and as an administrator for the operations/suppression, EMS, Special Operations/Wildland, Training and Communications Divisions.
The Explorer asked Brandt about his plans for the district and where it is headed. Following are his responses.
Explorer (E). Do you anticipate any changes in the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) or SOGs (Standard Operating Guidelines) for NWFD?
Chief Brandt (B): Part of our continued success at Northwest Fire District involves being aware of changes in our business and environment. We continually work to improve our service delivery practices and methods in all aspects of our work: fire responses, medical services, special operations functions, public education and fire prevention. We continue to seek ways to improve the safety and effectiveness of our operation by researching and testing new methods. Two recent examples are changes in our treatment protocols for cardiac arrests and the implementation of positive pressure attack methods on the fire ground.
Fire prevention practices also continue to evolve with the recent adoption of the 2012 International Fire Code in our district. The code represents national standards created with input from a broad range of professionals from electricians and plumbers to engineers and architects, and with the adoption of the 2012 edition of that code, the standards in our district are exceptionally current. Guided by the fire code, we are also cognizant of the needs of business owners and developers. We will continue to see changes in this area of our business as building methods and code requirements adjust.
Moving forward, I expect our SOPs will continue to evolve in a similar fashion. We are a data-driven organization and when the evidence suggests change is required, or is in some way advantageous, we will continue to implement change. From the successes we’ve witnessed in recent SOP adjustments, such as tripling the chance of survival for cardiac arrest patients with a new treatment protocol, or noting how code-mandated sprinklers limited fire damage so that a business owner could re-open in days rather than months, I’m looking forward to more change in our SOPs and what that represents for our community.
E: What areas would be affected and how would you go about investigating the potential changes needed?
B: We’re an internationally-accredited organization, one of only 161 accredited Fire/EMS agencies in the country out of approximately 25,000. This means we meet or exceed stringent standards established across our organization on an on-going basis. As such, we continually monitor various aspects of our operation.
This constant evaluation process often flags potential problems before they become serious issues and offers us an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments. For example, if we see response time slipping in an area, it’s flagged, investigated and proposals to remedy the situation are made. Since staff is very aware of the standards used to monitor performance in their areas, they’re empowered to offer proactive solutions to improve performance.
We also practice a collaborative labor/management concept that we call the Leadership Team. The process involves meeting regularly with representatives from management and labor to identify key issues and develop strategic goals that we can focus on collaboratively. This allows us to identify areas of improvement that are logical and transparent.
Other times, we discover the reason we developed a process or procedure is no longer valid as our organization has grown and matured. We do our best to focus on the things that have value and make sense. If there is no longer value associated with a practice, we adjust it.
Any proposed change requires a solid review and the implementation of accurate procedures within the structure of the Leadership Team to keep everybody on the same page while ensuring the highest levels of effectiveness and consistency for our community.
E: Do you anticipate any additional staffing needed in the district, either at the firematic level or on the administrative side?
B: We do have staffing needs associated with existing vacancies in the firefighter and paramedic positions, as well as several key administrative positions. These vacancies are due largely to attrition over the last few years with the total number of vacancies approaching the point where it makes more financial sense to hire new employees, than to pay overtime to existing employees. These are the financial equations we continue to balance.
E: Are there any more annexations in store for the district?
B: We do have a couple of small annexations in process, the largest of which is in the Lost Wells–Teal Blue Trail area. That’s a unit of about 20 parcels near Tangerine and Moore Roads.
There are also a few single parcel annexations taking place along north Silverbell. These annexations represent property owners who want fire and emergency medical service extended to their residence. At their request, our team is working to include them in the District so that they have access to the services they desire.
Those examples are a good demonstration of what our annexation philosophy has been — to extend fire protection coverage to those who don’t currently have it. Basically, we’ve been infilling our current boundaries with smaller annexations.
We’re in the process of reviewing a variety of areas that currently have no fire protection within a stone’s throw of our current boundaries, such as Marana Estates and the Moore Road/Butterfly Mountain neighborhood.
E: Regionalization has seemingly become a critical part of NWFD’s response to emergencies. Please elaborate on the regionalization concept as NWFD practices it, and the departments it cooperates with on the issue.
B: Regionalization is a very important concept to the Northwest Fire District. We believe cooperative and reciprocal partnerships can maximize efficiency and effectiveness for the region while reducing duplicative and overlapping services.
(Editor’s Note: See more from The Explorer’s interview with Chief Brandt online at www.explorernews.com.)
Golder Ranch Fire District, Picture Rocks Fire District, Avra Valley Fire District and Three Points Fire District are regional partners who all assist each other and the Northwest Fire District with emergency and non-emergency responses throughout the larger community. This cooperative approach with our regional partners is also applied to joint training efforts, coordinated SOPs, communications and wildland/urban interface responses.
While regionalized concepts are important to us, we believe its incumbent on all of the regional partners to ensure effective response forces are maintained based on the individual needs of their communities being served, without undue reliance being placed on any of the other partners to achieve that end.
E: For the other area fire districts that are not active participants in the regionalization scheme, please tell us about Northwest Fire’s relationship with them, about any mutual aid agreements and about any communications issues.
B: We are optimistic about future relationships and continue towards a regionalized service model. We support the evolution of the regional concept and seek ways to create lasting partnerships and a balanced approach to assisting one another. There are always challenges and we recognize that it takes time to navigate the specific needs of each agency as we identify the areas where creating partnerships make sense.
Specifically related to communications, Northwest Fire District has built a solid communications, data and radio network that now encompasses the 26 stations of the Northwest, Golder Ranch, Three Points, Picture Rocks and Avra Valley Fire Districts, providing a direct connection to the City of Tucson’s network. In addition, these five fire districts and the City of Tucson have agreements that provide for coverage across political boundaries, joint training and standard operating procedures — the three cornerstones of regionalization. Working out of Tucson Fire’s dispatch center, this regional system covers almost 50 stations and a population of approximately 750,000 people. We will continue to explore ongoing opportunities to integrate into systems if they meet the needs of the participating communities.
E: Does NWFD have any plans for expansion or renovations of stations in the near future?
B: There was a substantial amount of design work completed on a new station in the vicinity of Twin Peaks and I-10 that has been put on the back burner for the time being. At the point in time we begin to see development starting up again in that area, we can bring that project back. As far as renovations, we are in the process of renovating our former training building to accommodate our EMS Division.
Future plans include a small expansion of our Dove Mountain station to gain back some square footage and functionality lost to a communications tower project previously. Also, we need to provide for a better use of the space here at our administration building on Massingale.
All of these projects have been contemplated in our Capital Improvement Plan. We’ve invested time and energy in a model Fire Station Design Guide which captures all the pertinent information to be used to create the template for fire station design and use. The design guide does include information on office uses as well. This provides consistency and efficiency in getting these types of projects designed while giving us flexibility to meet the demands of the site specifics and use of the building.
E: Please elaborate on the department’s apparatus replacement plan, how it works and what kinds of apparatus are currently being replaced.
B: Our Fleet Maintenance staff has done an incredible job of keeping our apparatus current and safe. We typically shoot for a vehicle service life in two phases — primary service and reserve or secondary service. We shoot for 8 to 10 years primary service and then base the secondary service on a combination of factors including age, mileage, condition and repair cost/history. Apparatus in reserve status are maintained and equipped at the same level as a primary response apparatus and may be placed into service for a variety of reasons, including training, a major overhaul of a front line apparatus or a major event requiring the call back of personnel.
Staff vehicles may serve as Code 3 response vehicles for a primary period then be re-assigned to a support function for a period of time if the condition and cost of maintenance makes sense. Other times, a vehicle will spend its entire service life in a support function then be placed into surplus and sold at auction.
E: If there’s any major area of concern relating to NWFD that we should be talking about, please raise the issue for us.
B: There are always issues on the horizon we’re keeping tabs on. We recently held meetings with our stakeholders to ensure the issues we chose to tackle are relevant to our scope of practice, benefit of our residents, and can be addressed in a timely manner.
We also know there are issues on a national level coming our way that may influence our operations. The Affordable Health Care Act may have an impact our constituents as well as our partner healthcare providers, such as Northwest Medical, University Medical Center and others. We have not yet experienced the full impact of this legislative piece and do not yet know the full extent of how pre-hospital systems might change. But we’re keeping our finger on the pulse of this issue so that we can make adjustments ahead of the changes.
We anticipate that growth will continue on a steady path in our region, so we are looking at a variety of services and support possibilities as the region expands. We will continue to work with partner agencies as strategic partners while ensuring our role in the community is clearly articulated and positioned appropriately.
Annexations will always be a challenge, so we strive to make our services known and available to those who seek them. We provide excellent service at a competitive price and work hard at every level of the District to meet the needs of the community. When there is a choice in fire and medical services, we want to be the provider of choice.