Leadership Fort Collins: Emergency Services Day

Leadership Fort Collins was invited to learn about Emergency Services this month – each session I’m humbled by the dedication, passion, and leadership embedded throughout our community working to improve Fort Collins inside and out.

Programs like LFC and LNC provide a lot of transparency around complex systems and organizations which can appear as black boxes. LFC and LNC participants not only get the inside scoop through in-depth tours, Q+As, and activities, we’re encouraged to share what we learn with our own communities. I’ve loved my experience in both programs – if you’re considering applying to one, please go for it.

This month, our group of leaders was invited to tour the Fort Collins Police Department, where we were treated to a Q+A with the leaders of all the local emergency service departments (FCPD, CSUPD, PFA, UCH, and LSCO).

From there, we toured the police academy, visited dispatch, learned about the new HOPE program, and had a hands-on exploration of the SWAT, K9, and Traffic units.

An FCPD K9 Unit Demo

A few FCPD stats you might find interesting:

  • When fully staffed, 18 officers are on duty at any given time. They run 10-hour shifts across 4 days with 3 days off.
  • There are 230 sworn officers, with an average of 15 new officer candidates each training cycle. The entirety of the training cycle is around a year including the Academy, on-site tutoring, and probationary periods.
  • FCPD’s dispatch receives 600 calls daily; there are always 4 dispatchers in the room.
  • Co-responder programs are jointly funded by UCH and FCPD because it decreases costs for the hospital.
  • Fewer than 4% of police agencies are accredited – FCPD is one of them.
  • The K9 unit is used frequently, but is only used to subdue between 6-8 suspects per year.
  • Larimer County Sheriff’s Office wants you to tour the jail (for real)

What keeps Fort Collins emergency services leaders up at night?

  • UCH/EMS: 55,000 calls per year for ambulances – a 40% increase in calls post-COVID which continues to increase.
  • PFA: The cost to build a new fire engine went from $250K to $1.05M ($2M for a ladder truck) and has a 600 day lead time.
  • FCPD: ensuring all community voices are heard and accounted for, hiring ethical and kind folks FIRST, then training them to become police officers.
  • LSCO: learning the systems as a newly elected leader, ensuring collaboration and public input – making sure LSCO deputies can live in Larimer County.
  • CSUPD: impact and outcomes – DEI work, hiring the right people, but also focusing on the day-to-day experiences with officers.

Key Takeaways:

  • The best work happens in uncomfortable conversations and situations (find the folks who disagree with you and learn from them).
  • Train relentlessly and learn from situations outside your community.
  • Start every effort with good people, skills can be learned, ethics/kindness is intrinsic.

Next, we visited the Poudre Fire Authority Training Center and kicked off a Q+A with Chief Brandon Garcia, met the crew of Engine 7 (one of the most complex units in PFA), and got a hands-on tour of Engine 7, the smoke house, bunker gear, EMS techniques, and PFA’s training grounds. I had the chance to put on a fire suit – and definitely did not hit the 1-minute mark that recruits are trained to reach.

By the way, before I dive into photos, PFA’s EMH wants you to do two things:

  1. Learn the Hands-Only CPR Method (see below, the video takes exactly 1 minute). For every minute a person waits for help and isn’t breathing – their survival odds decrease by 10%. PFA’s response time is 5 minutes – meaning they have a 50/50 chance of survival once the ambulance arrives. By learning hands-only CPR, you increase those odds by 25%.
  2. Carry a tourniquet with or near you (preferably more than one, Amazon’s are fine, here are the ones they demoed for us). Stemming uncontrollable bleeding is a life-saving technique.
Hands-Only CPR
PFA 3rd Week Recruits – Timed Fire Suit Challenge

A few PFA stats you might find interesting:

  • PFA averages 13 new recruits a year, but this year they have 37 in the pipeline.
  • 55,000 engine responses each year which increases 3-5% each year.
  • 70-80% of calls involve EMS.
  • There are 191 uniformed firefighters operating out of 11 stations plus 2 volunteer stations supported by a team of 45 staff members.
  • PFA’s service area is 250 sq mi
  • PFA is 80% funded by City of Fort Collins, 20% by the remaining District area (e.g. Laporte, etc), which also reflects the call volumes from each area.
  • There are 63 firefighters on call daily working 48 hours on x 96 hours off (this is rare, California uses this schedule because their staff had trouble commuting for shorter shifts. Denver works 24 hours on x 24 hours off).
  • Engine 7 handles the most complex calls including Urban Search and Rescue, swift water, and wildfire.
  • Engines (water) have a crew of 3 firefighters and Trucks (ladders/saws/rescue) have a crew of 4 firefighters.
  • Firefighters arrive ahead of Ambulances because they can waive off the ambulances if they’re not needed.
  • Firefighter’s key internal issue is SLEEP, so much so that it impacts their health. They are supported via peer support programs, mental health programs, encouraged to work out an hour each day, and have additional annual health screenings.
  • Recruits are trained to put on their fire suits within 1 minute of a call.

What keeps PFA leaders up at night?

  • Chief Garcia – mental health in the community, specifically a few high-frequency callers who tie up resources.
  • Engine 7 Crew – worry over being good enough to do everything we need to do. (Bearing in mind these are some of the most technically competent rescue experts in our community, this was pretty stunning).

Key Takeaways:

  • Be able to lead from any position.
  • Professionalism = Calmness on scene.
  • Cross-training with different departments ensures operational excellency.

Leadership Lessons Learned:

  • Find mentors and peers.
  • Learn the roles throughout your organization – surround yourself with amazing people. 
  • Have high standards with a tender heart – put people first while holding folks accountable.
  • Be humble and accountable with your own efforts.
  • Integrity + competency + relationships = credibility.
  • Leadership is influence not power/control.
  • Trust stems from character, competence, and vision.
  • Care and candor go hand-in-hand.
  • Leadership is for when you don’t know what the answers is; management is for when the policy exists already.

Thanks to Leadership Fort Collins for this amazing learning opportunity – and to all the amazing, passionate, dedicated, and kind folks at Fort Collins Police Department, Poudre Fire Authority, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, CSU Police Department, and UCH EMS.

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