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Emergency dispatchers: E911 dispatch center means more info, faster response times for area firefighters

Monday, April 26, 2010

Editor's note: This story is the second in a series.

Fire departments around Saline County have all had their operations changed, at least slightly, by the Saline County E911 Dispatch Center.

The biggest benefit to Marshall Fire Department, said Chief John Rieves, is a decreased response time, with fire fighters on scene about 30 to 60 seconds sooner than they were during calls prior to the center's opening.

"A minute makes a big difference," he said.

Rieves said the telecommunicators are "well-trained. ... They know how to ask the right questions."

Previously, MFD's dispatching was performed by Marshall Police Department dispatchers at no cost to MFD, Rieves said. Now, the dispatch center's services still cost the department nothing.

Slater Fire Department Chief Chuck Weiher has noticed small changes to the department's operations: now, firefighters remain in contact with telecommunicators and receive more information about the fire and directions to the fire. But, he added, they always find the route on a map for themselves, too.

Because all of Saline County's firefighters communicate on the same channel, this allows SFD firefighters to keep in mind what other departments are dealing with, knowing that if they hear about a bad fire in Marshall, "we better hang around."

Weiher estimates his department's time savings as rather higher than MFD's, saying they now save between five and 10 minutes on an average call. This, he said, is primarily because 911 calls not immediately reaching Slater Police Department were previously routed around from department to department until they reached SPD. There, dispatchers took the information, ended contact with the caller, then called firefighters and alerted them to the emergency.

The department has had some difficulty with radio communications, Weiher said, but a repeater will soon be installed in a tower in Gilliam.

Another benefit Weiher sees coming from the dispatch center is that communication methods have been made identical among the county's emergency responders. In the case of a statewide emergency, this will make statewide communication very easy, he said.

Also, he said the dispatch center is "receptive to hearing problems" departments are experiencing.

Sweet Springs Fire Department now has constant communication with dispatchers from the time firefighters are "toned out" until they return to the fire station, Chief Todd Anderson said, whereas before, there was no communication with the city clerk or city collector, who previously shared dispatching duties for the department. Now, those two have their time freed to perform work for the city government.

Also, SSFD and Sweet Springs Police Department previously used part-time dispatchers during evenings and nights at a total cost of $49,000 per year.

Although radio coverage is somewhat spotty in some of the areas SSFD serves, said Anderson, a repeater will be installed at the Sweet Springs Police Department Tuesday, April 27.

The primary benefit the dispatch center offers SSFD, said Anderson, is those telecommunicators have "access to more resources," including mapping software that telecommunicators can use to direct firefighters to their destination while navigating around closed roads or other barriers to travel. This is especially helpful, he added, when traveling to assist emergency medical personnel.

Contact Geoff Rands at marshallreporter@socket.net

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