Controller: 45,000 Fires Didn't Have Engine Arrive on Time

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has issued a report with preliminary findings into an audit of the Philadelphia Fire Department's emergency response rate . The report found that in the last five years, there have been nearly 44,522 fire emergencies in which the first engine did not reach the scene on time.

Engines should arrive within five minutes and 20 seconds, with that standard met 90 percent of the time. Philadelphia's engines have only arrived in that time frame 75 percent of the time, the audit says, and its rate was over 80 percent prior to 2010. Bruce Gordon with more:

National standards dictate that fire engines arrive on the fire scene within 5-minutes, 20 seconds to be considered to have arrived "on time."

But an audit by the Controller's office shows Philadelphia firefighters meet that 5-20 standard just 76 percent of the time.

That's down from 81-percent back in 2008...and amounts to thousands of fires in which firefighters arrived late.

""And every minute's delay, increases the chance, substantially, of somebody being killed or seriously hurt.

Butkovitz says the on-time rate dropped when the Nutter administration began temporarily closing fire houses on a rotating basis- to save money.

That decision, he says, came with a cost.

"You know how quickly curtains can go up, or something that might be manageable if you're right on top of it, if it's allowed to get into the woodwork, you've got a disaster. So every second counts."

The fire department is pushing back.

We caught up with Commissioner Derrick Sawyer as he accepted an 81-thousand dollar check from the Insurance society of Philadelphia, for the purchase of smoke detectors.

I presented him with the controller's claim that Philly firefighters are too late, too often.

"I disagree. I think we've been to fires in a timely manner. I think that we can always do better."

Sawyer says he has been working to put his crews in better position to get to fires quickly. He has cut back on the number of fire houses closed each day. And has worked strategically to put free smoke detectors into the hands of homeowners in the highest-risk neighborhoods.

He notes that fire deaths are way down: 12 this year, to date...versus 31 by this date last year.

"The number one goal of the fire department is to save lives and protect property. And I think we're doing that."