Growth of high rise buildings creating obstacles for first responders

By Janine Stanwood - Anchor/Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - In the heart of bustling Fort Lauderdale, first responders face a host of challenges.

One of their biggest obstacles: high-rises.

Many new luxury buildings in the city have layered security, and multiple entrances and elevators. Getting access to a patient, or the source of a fire, can take precious minutes.

STANDARDS

According to the American Heart Association, brain death can begin 4 to 6 minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest, which is why fire departments generally work to have a 6-minute arrival time.

Records show Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue has maintained a consistent arrival time from dispatch to scene since 2015, despite the growing number of high-rises downtown.

What records don't show is how long it takes first responders to get to the patient once they've arrived at the scene.

SIMULATED SCENARIO

In a simulated scenario conducted with Fort Lauderdale paramedics in October, Local 10 timed their response time to a unit on the 15th floor at the Symphony Tower Condominium. Time was measured between when the crew unloaded the stretcher in the back of their rescue vehicle to their arrival at the unit.

As seconds passed, the crew had to get past the first guard gate and security inside the lobby. They were directed into one set of elevators that led to a second common area, where they had to take another set of elevators to the 15th floor.

It took paramedics more than 5 minutes. That's in addition to how long it would have taken them to get to the building once dispatched.

Paramedic Michael Forzano said those extra minutes could be the difference between life and death. "Absolutely. Especially in a cardiac arrest scenario, or a stroke scenario, where time is tissue," he said.

CAN TECHNOLOGY HELP?

Fort Lauderdale Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan said last year, firefighters started using a website called First Due Size Up.

He said the city is now rolling out the portion of that technology for residents to use in tandem, called First Due Community Connect.

It allows residents to sign up for free, and input critical details about where they live: details about pets and family medical issues, as well as security codes and contact information for managers inside condominiums.

"So that while we're responding to the call, we're able to see all that information populate on our screens," Gollan said.

He also said the information is encrypted and secure.

"At no time are we asking for birth dates or social security numbers, or anything like that," Gollan said. "Honestly, who knows a building better than the people who live and work in that building every single day?"

Because the program is new, there are no success stories yet. But Gollan believes it could save time and lives.

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