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UPDATE: Fire Chiefs join Madison over 911 concerns

UPDATE: Fire Chiefs join Madison over 911 concerns

Controversy at the 911 Center. The debate over response times has turned into a public fight between the Madison Mayor and the Dane County Executive. Everyone agrees that public safety is the number one concern; but the argument is whether it's being put in jeopardy across the county.

To this point it has has seemed a classic case of he said, she said. But now, city officials have more support in their corner. The Dane County Fire Chief's Association sent a letter Tuesday night, to County Executive Joe Parisi saying things need to change, and quickly.

"We had a situation where it took one hour from the time the woman called until we responded to her husband's heart attack," said Madison's Mayor Paul Soglin. Mayor Soglin has publicly voiced his concerns since last month. He adds, "I've got a responsibility to the public." Calling out County Executive Joe Parisi, saying his main issue is the response time, from the time the call comes in, to the time that emergency crews are dispatched; and he's not alone.

"When somebody calls 911, the dispatcher picks up the phone and they follow their protocols, but what we're seeing is an actual time it takes is about 3:40 to dispatch that call," said Madison's Fire Chief Steven Davis.

And Madison's Fire Chief says that's just too long. The national non-biased standard on how long it should take EMS and Fire to arrive on scene is 6 minutes. Breakdown is 4 minutes for travel time, 1 minute or less from the time the call reaches the station and the vehicle is moving, and one minute for dispatch. "Our goal is to have our people get that within 60 seconds of the call and be on their way," said Mayor Soglin.

The current dispatch system went live last April, and since then the city says it has documented 32 cases of significant errors in the dispatch system's software adding even more confusion to a critical situation.

Actual dispatch call: "Just checking what do you have our status as," said emergency crews. Dispatcher answers, "Well I have you as available but it still shows you as... you're available but for some reason it's still showing you at St. Mary's."

But some with the county are backing the new system. "The system works, there are some issues. The city says it has had 32 cases but that's out of 400,000 plus calls the County gets a year," said Gary Ziegler, Chair of Public Safety Communication Operating Practices Advisory Committee. Ziegler is also the Director of Belleville EMO says no system is perfect, but this one is state-of-the-art. Protocols call for each person to answer at least 5 questions and those delays may lie within the caller. "The bottom line is how the people on the other end of the phone answer the questions," he said.

Just in the last 24 hours, the Dane County Fire Chief's Association, which makes up 30 departments, agrees with the City of Madison that there is a serious problem with response times. They, along with city officials, say it's a software problem and it's not about the dispatchers.

"If you'd talk to dispatchers, they'd tell you they're frustrated with the system too," adds Chief Davis. "I don't know why taxpayers in Madison are paying tens, hundreds of millions of dollars to build police stations, fire stations, buy fire trucks, ambulances, pay to have police officers and firefighters on duty and then it takes 15 minutes, an hour, to dispatch them," said Mayor Soglin.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi hasn't commented on the letter from the Fire Chief's Association, but he has authorized the 911 Center's leader to spear-head a new pilot project., where Madison fire units will be pre-alerted of a fire or life-threatening medical emergency call.

As for the next step, a sub-committee of the 911 Center Board will meet next week. They hope to develop a plan, which they'll submit to the Center Board for review. We're told that will take some time. There are more than 200 protocols that need to be reviewed, and that could take around five months.

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