Utah County to hire fire dispatcher

Cathy Allred NORTH COUNTY STAFF


Firefighters and emergency medical services will be able to converse during emergencies more freely now -- they will have their own dedicated line in the county.

Utah County commissioners approved at their July 5 meeting hiring a fire dispatcher and dedicating a fire dispatch channel, separating fire and EMS calls from police dispatch on its VHS and 800 MHz radios.The move will affect all cities in Utah County except those that have their own dispatch services, namely Provo, Orem, Springville and Pleasant Grove.

"The channels are so busy with police now, it's hard for the ambulance and fire, it should work out better for us," said Dale Ekins, Lehi fire chief. "It will be better for the citizens. We'll have someone dedicated to these calls now and they'll be more on top of things. They'll know what's going on in our area."

Salt Lake County already has a separate fire/EMS dispatch system. Utah County dispatch hopes to have its new system up and running by October. The move will benefit not only fire departments and emergency services but the law enforcement agencies as well.

"That's awesome," said UCSO public relations officer Dennis Harris about the change. "When you have emergencies sometimes you have several that happen in one hour. You know, when it rains it pours. But it not only pours for police, sometimes it happens for fire too. I think it's tremendous, its absolutely tremendous. I think it's admirable for the county commissioners to see that."

The need for a separate dispatch service to the fire and EMS departments is necessary because of the population growth the county has experienced in the last few years, said Robert DeKorver, Eagle Mountain fire chief.

"There has been an increase in police calls and fire calls, and because of that it's been very difficult to get the radio time that's needed because of radio calls," he said. "This way fire have their own channel and police have theirs and we have the air time that we need."

He said police incidents are quite different than fire incidents with a higher frequency of police incidents but fire and EMS are longer in duration and have more radio traffic when they do occur.

"There have been numerous occasions with the radio traffic going on to get the ambulance," DeKorver said. "The ambulance still gets there, but they don't go on the line because they can't get a word in."

The county fire chief put together a dispatch liaison committee to determine what was needed to get a fire dispatcher and a dedicated fire channel. A letter was sent out from all the fire chiefs to the effected cities so their city councils could budget funds for the move.

Changing to a dedicated channel and having their own dispatcher will cost money and some cities are looking at an additional $5,000 charge a year. Saratoga Springs Fire/EMS Department runs 2,000-plus calls annually and will be looking at a sizable increase, but it isn't to make a profit on the county's part, Ekins said.

"The rates have gone up with all the cities, because for years they have just charged a minor, minor fee," he said. "It's long overdue. We haven't been paying our share of dispatch fees for a long time."

The change has been something the fire chiefs association has asked for and billing for the service will be billed per call.

"So they don't get placed second to police while they are fighting a fire," said Sheriff Jim Tracy, UCSO.

"I think it's a great change because normally we would be going on the regular police channel," said Craig Carlisle, Lone Peak fire chief. "I think this will work a lot better; we'll have our own channel to talk on. If we can have our fire channel and not intermingle with police that's good for them and good for us."