Public safety officials have started investigating whether Indianapolis Fire Department crews falsely reported early arrival times at two fire scenes even though they were still driving to those fires.
The probe, opened July 12, was spurred by information gathered by City-County Councilwoman Christine Scales from firefighters at a station on the city’s northeast side about two nearby stations, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Scales said she’s pressed the issue about incidents in May and June.
In one incident, a crew marked its arrival at house fire 47 seconds after another station’s crew was in place. The first firefighters to arrive told Scales the other crew actually arrived at least a minute and a half later, maybe as long as 2 minutes. That could suggest that someone in the second crew, which was traveling from a station that’s more than twice as far away, had pushed a console button to signal it was on the scene though the truck was still en route.
In Scales’ other complaint, a dispatcher canceled an engine’s call to a home for an alarm check, telling them a different crew had already arrived at the scene. But she said the engine’s crew was turning around when members saw the second crew’s truck pass by, still on its way to the call.
Scales said she believed there was strong evidence that the two crews falsely reported their arrivals.
“Fudging on response times is fraud,” she said.
Scales has complained about the impact of five township fire agencies in Marion County merging with the Indianapolis department and the reassignment of a ladder truck from a station in her district.
Fire Chief Brian Sanford said the city police department’s Internal Affairs Office is conducting the investigation, although a review of one incident by a deputy fire chief didn’t support the allegations.
“All of the narratives and radio traffic seemed to support the times that were (recorded),” Sanford said.
Scales said firefighters have speculated pressure and potentially unhealthy competition among fire companies have resulted from the department’s monthly internal comparisons of unit-by-unit response times.
Ken Willette, manager of the Public Fire Protection Division of the National Fire Protection Association, said reporting incorrect arrival times can corrupt data potentially key to an investigation into a fire response or to show a community has adequate fire protection.
“It has a lot to do with the community – the taxpayers – knowing what are you getting for your services with your dollars,” Willette said. “It quantifies the level of protection that a taxpayer receives. That’s an important benchmark.”
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