Preview: How long will it take for help to arrive after you call 9-1-1?

Preview: How long will it take for help to arrive after you call 9-1-1?
Portland firefighters ride in a truck on their way to a medical call in Southeast Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. – 9-1-1 is one of those essential services we don’t often think about and probably take for granted, but how long will it really take for help to reach you when you need it?

A KATU On Your Side Investigation uncovered holes in our emergency safety net. The data provided exclusively to KATU shows delays in fire and medical emergencies are only getting worse – not only in Portland, but in suburban fire districts, too. That means your crisis is much more likely to become a deadly catastrophe.

For fire and rescue personnel in Portland, target response time for emergency calls is five minutes and 20 seconds – similar to the National Fire Protection Agency’s recommendation of 5 minutes.

"Response time is a critical factor in fire response,” said Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Erin Janssens.

Janssens said with the types of materials used in modern furnishings, a house fire can double in size every minute. Something called flashover – a spontaneous ignition of super-heated gasses – can occur within 2-4 minutes.

Response time is equally critical for medical emergencies. 

“Permanent brain damage begins four to six minutes without oxygen,” explained Janssens. “And when cardiac arrest occurs the outlook to save a life decreases 10 percent for every minute CPR, defibrillation and drug therapy is delayed."

But right now, across the city of Portland, Janssens said firefighters are averaging a response time of 7 minutes and six seconds. A map she displayed for the Portland City Council at their budget work session earlier this month showed entire neighborhoods where the response time is actually 8 minutes or more.

And now Portland is considering closing as many as seven fire stations, which Janssens said could have a detrimental impact on her department's lifesaving mission.

"Each closure has a cascading effect on response reliability and response times. Time and proper resources equates to saving lives and property,” she said.

But even if Portland keeps all the current stations open, projections of this year's response times, provided exclusively to On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano, show no neighborhood is as safe as the fire department says it should be.

Canzano and our team of investigative producers have spent the past month analyzing 9-1-1 response data. Coming up at 6 p.m. on KATU News we’ll show you what’s causing the crisis and equip you with ways to clock response times where you live. We’ll also take a look at another Oregon community questioning the decision to close fire houses after a couple died in a fire at their home.

Watch Anna Canzano’s 9-1-1 response time report tonight at 6 p.m. on KATU News.