Close Your Stations, Boost Your Performance

Emergency service stations are a critical component of any response service. Stations are costly to build, and finding land in an ideal location is a challenging endeavour. If you are like most chiefs or directors, you will hoard them like pirate treasure. One never knows when budget for an additional station will be approved—let alone when the NIMBY and political hurdles can be overcome so you can start building it.

Why would you ever want to reduce your station numbers?

We’ve done station location projects for over a dozen multi-station cities, and in almost every case, there are stations that under-perform—i.e. they bear a disproportionately small share of responses.

We all know these stations. Sometimes they are called the “sleepy hollow”. They're an attractive pre-retirement assignment. Sometimes they're quiet because the neighbourhood has changed character through gentrification, but just as often, it was a poorly located station to begin with. In some extreme cases, these under-performing stations act as a drag on overall performance.

In one fairly large city, we found two stations that were located in areas with very low call volume. In spite of the fact that this particular city was severely under-stationed, we found that removing these stations saw no noticeable decrease in response performance. These two sites were close to so few calls that they wouldn’t be missed whatsoever.

But what is the cost?

Keeping facilities like these can cost you in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. First, there is the capital tied up in the building and land. In many cases, this is multiple millions of dollars. Secondly, there is the operational cost of cleaning, stocking, heating, and maintaining the facility. This typically runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Both of these are  ”opportunity costs” where this funding could be better used elsewhere in the organization. As currently deployed, it offers no value to your system.

The inefficiency of these stations can result in other costs as well. First, crews that are deployed to an under-performing station are rarely if ever the closest responder. Their skills suffer attrition and they will only be called upon when the system is busy or when they’ve been flexed to another location. At night, this may mean they never have to respond, and you are paying them to watch over your facility. Even if they are dispatched to a call, their response times will be much slower than busier crews who are responding to the majority of calls in your system. Secondly, even in a busier system, crews will need to start and end their shift in these quiet stations and will thus be effectively unavailable for these intervals, further hampering system performance. Finally, these stations become a source of conflict between crews since workloads are so unbalanced.

How would you use a million dollars to improve your operation?

Although sophisticated station models or simulations can clearly identify these stations, often they’re easy to spot with a quick look at your call data. Ask your operational analyst to give you a count of responses originating from each station over the last month. You may be surprised to find one or two that hasn't had a single response.

Now ask yourself, how would you use a million dollars to improve your operation?