City to work with county to solve dispatch concerns

Author: Susan K. Lamb, Democrat Managing Editor
Publication Date: 2005-05-27



The city of Live Oak is scheduling meetings with the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office and 911 dispatching to work out city concerns over county dispatch procedures. Those concerns escalated recently when a 911 caller on a cell phone could not direct rescuers to his location where a woman had had a heart attack.

The woman, 41, died in Eastside Cemetery where she was walking enroute to church that night. The woman's brother, who was with her, ran to Springfield Baptist Church several blocks away for assistance. When church members arrived at the scene, one man used a cell phone to call 911 but called the site Memorial Cemetery on Duval Street, officials say. Since cell phones cannot be tracked under the county's current 911 system, the dispatcher could not determine the location through her system nor with the information given and she did not recognize the name of the cemetery she was being given. The dispatcher asked the caller to meet rescue at the Live Oak Fire Department and lead them to the woman.

A sign at the cemetery says the cemetery, located on Eva Avenue, not Duval, is "Eastside Cemetery, Live Oak, Florida."

The issue came up for the second time during the City Council recessed meeting this week. Live Oak Fire Chief Chad Croft, who said his people were not notified of the incident that night until a deputy arrived at the fire station asking where the heart attack victim was, said his department hasn't changed any of its procedures since that time. However, he told the City Council it's his understanding the Sheriff's Office has made some changes to improve dispatch procedures.

Councilman Bennie Thomas asked if the city could get with the county to work out the issues of concern.

Croft said he had gotten an estimate for radios to pick up the ambulance calls at the request of City Councilman John Yulee so firefighters could have a back-up notification in the event of such an incident in the future and are not called out. The radios would cost $3,462.

Croft told the Council he wants his department to help all it can. He said LOPFD has EMTs on staff who can do anything but "administer drugs." However, he added, if his staff is on the scene of one incident, they can't be listening to ambulance calls of other emergencies. "I think we need to hold dispatch accountable," he added.

Council Chairman Don Boyette rejected the idea of purchasing the radios, saying the city is not in the EMS or dispatching business and to meddle in how those operations are handled could put responsibility on the city. "It's not our responsibility," Boyette said of managing EMS and dispatch.

"The equipment Chad (Croft) wants would not have helped in that situation at all," Live Oak Police Chief Nolan McLeod told the Council. "What you heard on that tape (of the emergency call regarding the heart attack) isn't heard on those radios."

McLeod said the incident, although regrettable, is a training opportunity for everyone. "It forces you to take a look at it and see if something needs to be addressed," McLeod said. "In all due respect, what we're trying to do here to tonight isn't going to solve this problem," he added. McLeod then asked that he and Croft work with the county on solving some of the issues that were raised, a requested approved by the Council.

Croft said he already had a meeting set for this week with dispatch. Croft said he's also scheduling his firefighters to spend time in dispatch in the future to get to know the dispatchers and so the dispatchers can get to know his staff.

It was pointed out that the city doesn't have its own 911 map nor was the city mapped for 911 due to cost when the county began 911 addressing. James Robinson, Suwannee County 911 Coordinator, recently took his own time to develop such a map for the city and presented it to city officials to help save lives. But, that map isn't complete at this time and is a work in progress as correct names and other information are placed on the map.

Susan K. Lamb may be reached by calling 1-386-362-1734 ext. 131 or by emailing susan.lamb@gaflnews.com.