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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Post Palm Beach Fla--Questions over Joint Dispatch

    Palm Beach Post
    Few praises for centralized dispatch system


    By Nirvi Shah, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 23, 2003



    WEST PALM BEACH -- Instead of praising a plan intended to save lives, cities large and small told county commissioners Tuesday that a centralized fire-rescue dispatch system could make their residents suffer.

    County commissioners asked Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue Chief Herman Brice last year to come up with a plan to centralize radio dispatch for the county, with incentives for cities to join, and set a minimum level of service throughout the county.

    If all fire-rescue agencies could communicate, and they were all prepared to handle many situations, county dispatchers could unleash firefighters and paramedics from the station closest to an emergency regardless of city boundaries, Brice said.

    "If you were able to utilize the resources of this county in a common way, you would save lives," he said.

    Last year the county handled 94,000 emergency calls, but could accommodate up to 300,000 calls a year with the equipment and space it has now, Brice said. Cities wouldn't have to be a part of the county's dispatching, but the county would pay for the new equipment for cities and towns that do participate.

    Commissioners asked Brice, with input from other agencies, to come up with an ordinance for minimum levels of service by December that the county would ask voters to approve next year. Voters must approve the plan because it would change the county's charter. Participating in central dispatch is voluntary for cities.

    Cities have doubts that the plan would improve their service. "Bigger is not always better," said Duke Nelson, director of public safety for North Palm Beach.

    Palm Springs Vice Mayor Bev Smith said routing calls through a county dispatcher could cost city rescue units precious seconds. With one county fire station to the north of her city, another to the south, but none immediately east, Palm Springs emergency personnel could be outside the city when they are needed by Palm Springs residents.

    Cities don't have to participate, and "every city we've merged with, they have better response times today than they did before," Brice said.

    Staffing a firetruck one way in one place might lengthen response times in another place, West Palm Beach Fire Chief Ray Carter said. He doesn't want to see some fire stations close or have city residents taxed twice for protection.

    The system would appear to duplicate what Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach did when they merged police and fire communication systems two years ago, County Commissioner Mary McCarty said. Commissioner Burt Aaronson asked Brice to consider reimbursing agencies that already invested in a shared system.

    "A lot of cities, especially south-county cities, have spent millions of dollars to get this," McCarty said. "Now we're talking about doing it for everybody?"

    The plan did have some support.

    "There's redundancy in the systems, literally, where fire stations are built right next to each other, and paramedics cannot go across the street because of jurisdiction," said Armand Nault, legislative director for the Professional Firefighters/Paramedics of Palm Beach County. "Maybe this is the process that gets everybody together."

    nirvi_shah@pbpost.com
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


  2. #2
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Sun-Sentinel

    Palm Beach County wants uniform fire standards

    By Leon Fooksman
    Staff Writer
    Posted April 23 2003

    Some Palm Beach County officials have a vision: a centralized, countywide dispatch center for all fire calls and tougher training and equipment standards for every fire department.

    But the vision comes with new costs for all county residents, including those who live in cities with top-notch fire departments.











    The county's top fire official told county commissioners Tuesday that centralizing dispatch and raising fire service standards would be more efficient, speed response times and encourage all fire departments to cross jurisdiction boundaries to help neighboring cities.

    "This could save lives," county Fire Chief Herman Brice said.

    To smaller departments, it's a potentially budget-breaking idea that could reduce local control of a vital service and duplicate existing staff and equipment. Exactly how much the plan might cost cities and the county hasn't been determined.

    "I urge you to proceed very cautiously," Delray Beach City Manager David Harden told the commissioners. He worries that if other fire departments come into his city to assist on calls, they might not know the special needs of certain corridors of the city.

    The county decided to pursue centralized dispatching and a minimum countywide "level of service" proposal to improve communications among fire departments during emergencies such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks, Brice said.

    The idea arose in December when county officials discussed the potential fire communication problems created by annexation. Fire administrators decided to work toward standardizing training levels, emergency response times and equipment requirements.

    Brice's staff will develop the standards in the coming months with the administrators of about 20 fire and emergency response departments in the county. Until then, Brice is declining to discuss specifically what some of those standards could be.

    At the same time, county fire officials will try to sell cities on their idea for a countywide fire-rescue dispatch center. Most cities would still have their own dispatch services, but all calls would be routed to the county center where dispatchers would oversee responses to emergencies. Cities would be asked, but not required, to participate.

    Commissioners gave preliminary approval for the fire staff to begin the projects.

    Changing the standards that govern fire departments would require voters to support a referendum to change the county charter. Commissioners directed their staff to devise the standards by the end of the year with the idea of possibly putting the issue before voters in November 2004.

    "People will support this," Commissioner Burt Aaronson said. "I don't see it as a problem. Every resident of this county would want the highest level of service."

    Some city officials worry the new standards will translate into high costs for new equipment and staffing changes. Some cities recently have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to link their emergency operations through a new radio system that could be made obsolete by the county's changes, city officials said.

    The county now spends $5.8 million to run a dispatch center that handles about 100,000 calls a year, Brice said. That center could oversee another 200,000 calls a year.

    Leon Fooksman can be reached at lfooksman@sun-sentinel.com or 561-832-2905.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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