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."


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.

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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