Introduction: Structure fires, although infrequent, require significant resources and personnel to effectively complete critical tasks in a short time frame to achieve positive outcomes. While it is important to dispatch the appropriate number of resources rapidly, there is a risk to over-allocate responding resources both to the public and to the responders by responding with lights and siren. A standardized emergency fire dispatch (EFD) protocol-based system is important to quickly identify working structures fires so appropriate resources are allocated in an effective manner—and safety risks to responders and callers are mitigated.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to compare on-scene outcomes (working vs. inactive structure fires) for ECHO (highest) vs. non-ECHO (lowest) dispatch priority levels to determine if the ECHO-level is a better predictor of a working structure fire than the non-ECHO priority levels.

Methods: The retrospective descriptive study analyzed de-identified structure fire dispatch cases recorded as ECHO and non-ECHO level calls handled at five emergency communications centers in North America from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, using the Fire Priority Dispatch System™ (FPDS®) version 6.1 Structure Fire Protocol (Priority Dispatch Corp.™, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA). A working structure fire was defined as any call where responders took at least 10 minutes without cancellation of units (from first unit arrival) and where the time on task was at least 30 minutes. The primary outcome measure was the number of working structure fires. STATA Software release 16.0 ©2019 (StataCorp LLC, College Station, TX, USA) was used for data analysis. Descriptive statistics were used to assess the ability of the ECHO priority level codes to predict working fires. Significance of inter-group differences were evaluated at the 0.05 level of significance cut-off.

Results: A total 2,816 EFD calls were handled during the study period, of which 659 were excluded for lack of records on a response unit’s arrival on scene, time on task, or call handling using the FPDS®. Of the remaining 2,157 cases, 350 (16.2%) were classified as working structure fires. Overall, 325 (15.1%) of all the cases were coded under the ECHO-level. Overall, the ECHO-level was twice more likely to predict a working structure fire than non-ECHO priority levels (28.6% and 14.0%, respectively).

Conclusions: The study findings showed the ECHO-level coding for structure fires was a significant predictor of a working structure fire compared to the non-ECHO level structure fire codes. Future research should focus on specific characteristics of working structure fires that can be relayed to 9-1-1 that may allow further refinement of the ECHO coding.

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