Reno Fire Chief: Even in Great Departments, “There’s Always Room for Improvement”

reno Fire Chief, Dave Cochran

Reno Fire Chief, Dave Cochran

Following the wildfires that raged across the western United States just last month, it may be easy to overlook the important work that takes place behind the scenes to ensure both rural and urban fire departments are properly staffed and equipped to deal with emergencies of all kinds.

The Reno Fire Department (RFD) is an excellent example of a department that has been working diligently to optimize its operations for years. In an effort to make the department as efficient and successful as possible, last year, the City of Reno called upon the Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) to review the RFD’s operations and provide data-driven input. Though his department was running well, in the words of Reno Fire Chief Dave Cochran, “there’s always room for improvement.”

The city specifically sought an external, independent perspective on the city’s fire and emergency management services delivery system, so they could receive any needed critical feedback in order to continue improving the department.

“The CPSM team brings actual experience in fire service, data and management to the table,” said Chief Cochran. This real-life experience empowers them to understand the information we share, improving their analysis and the entire process. Non-fire professionals might ask the right questions, but they don’t understand the implications of the answers we give. That’s not the case with CPSM.”

During the study, CPSM analyzed performance data such as calls for service and other dispatch and workload data provided by RFD. CPSM’s review also included a site visit in which they examined the department’s operations firsthand and met with stakeholders. These meetings provided CPSM an opportunity to gain valuable insight into the Department’s operations from key personnel as well as provide context to the work being done and answer questions. 

“Actually coming out here and interviewing all of the stakeholders went a long way to getting people to buy in,” said Chief Cochran. “The team sought input from all of the stakeholders from fire management, to union leaders, to local providers. I don’t think they left anyone out that would have a stake in the process.”

After completing its evaluation and analysis, in September 2019 CPSM issued a 150-page report containing 32 recommendations for improvements to the Reno Fire Department’s operations and administration. 

The report looked at everything from operations to dispatch. Though the report found no major flaws, the report’s authors made specific recommendations to enable the Reno Fire Department to become more efficient in the management of its emergency and nonemergency responsibilities.

Some of CPSM’s recommendations were simple to implement as they aligned with department programs already in motion. Even before the report was finalized, Chief Cochran was able to secure Council approval and funding for an apparatus replacement program, which aims to ensure adequate planning and funding for needed emergency response vehicles such as engines, tenders/tankers (water supply vehicles), aerial apparatus (ladders), rescue vehicles/squads, ambulances, and other specialized vehicles.

The program, which Chief Cochran had long advocated for, was recommended in the CPSM report, providing data-driven support for his decision.

CPSM’s recommendation around dispatch consolidation has been trickier to implement. The CPSM report recommended consolidating Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) dispatch operations into Reno Public Safety Dispatch as a means of achieving the goal of providing the best, most efficient overall service to the community. 

As noted in the report, “the current dispatching process is redundant, often results in delays due to the call transfer, and results in RFD units responding with lights and sirens to many calls that are minor in nature.” However, a planned meeting to explore options was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless, by raising these points, providing detailed facts and figures, and outlining custom suggestions, the CPSM report has provided a vital roadmap forward for the Reno Fire Department as it strives to continue to improve its operations and effectiveness in the years ahead.


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