Local Fire Chiefs Answer Talk About Changes In Dispatch System

By Lynne Beauchamp, lbeauchamp@thesuntimesnews.com and Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

A recent upgrade in computer dispatching software may have caused some delays in EMS/Fire response times in Washtenaw County.

According to Chief Robert Smith, Dexter Area Fire Department, when a 911 call comes into Washtenaw County, it is taken at a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) which is the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. This call taker then decides if the nature of the call is for police or fire/EMS.  If fire/EMS, the call is transferred to the HVA dispatch call taker who will take down the information and send it to a telecommunicator (dispatcher) to manage.

Smith said while the 911 call taking process is the same now as it was before, HVA Dispatch is going through a transition from upgrading equipment and software used in Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) System. 

“As with any implementation of new technology there is a learning and adjustment period,” said Smith in an email.  “The new system had a lot of ‘hiccups’ that needed to be worked through which caused some difficulties for the Fire Department and Ambulance Service.”

Smith said there were communication glitches in the notification method – a combination of Active911, Edispatch and Pagers to alert staff. 

“These elements triggered in the call taking process at different points and have not interacted well with the CAD up to this time,” added Smith.

During a recent DAFD Fire Board meeting, Smith was told of a medical incident that happened in downtown Dexter. John Westman, DAFD Fire Board Vice Chair and representing Webster Township, described a recent incident of seeing someone having a medical emergency while a citizen had been on the phone calling for help. Westman said he was shocked to find first responders had not yet responded to the scene knowing the DAFD fire station was a “stone’s throw away” from the incident taking place. Westman said he responded to the incident by contacting DAFD directly and within 90 seconds, said DAFD was on scene to assist. Westman said that when talking to DAFD that day, a DAFD employee had mentioned being disconnected from dispatch several times during the call for help.

“It is not an embarrassment to us, but it is an embarrassment to the system,” Westman said.

In a separate interview; Manchester Township Fire Chief, William Scully said his department had been dispatched to all of their calls and had not missed any, but there had been some delays from the dispatch side.

“We had a few calls where we had a few delays in getting us dispatched out,” said Scully. “In the last few weeks, it has gotten better.”

Scully added he was aware of upgrades on HVA’s end but said there are always ‚Äúlearning curves” with new systems. He compared the previous software and equipment in the CAD system to a personal computer.

“It’s like your operating system for your computer,” he said. “You’re not still running Windows 7, hopefully.”

Chief Robert Arbini, Chelsea Area Fire Authority, said his department had not experienced much of an issue during the transition of the CAD system. 

“Nothing that’s been troublesome, a slight delay here and there but nothing that’s changed the outcome of any call or anything like that,” said Arbini in a recent interview. “I know there’s some ‘hiccups’ going on but its not alarming to me…I’ve asked employees to notify me if there have been any major incidents, but nothing has been reported to me.”

Arbini added he had not received any citizen complaints of the calls his station had been on and said he took that as CAFA’s service had been good.

In response to HVA’s recently upgraded computer dispatching software Matt Rose, Public Information Officer for HVA had this to say- “This technology upgrade did have some unanticipated issues which we are diligently working to resolve with our vendor and the fire departments we dispatch. We understand that these issues require a swift solution and we have dedicated a resolution team to ensure that happens. We have resolved many of the issues and are in the process of resolving remaining issues. We are committed to serve the community with the high-quality service that is expected and support our public safety partners in an efficient and timely manner.”

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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