By Nick Markowitz Jr.
We need faster response times between when a fire alarm signal is received at a 3rd party monitoring center and when 911 actually dispatches it
When a fire alarm activates most of them send a signal to a 3rd party monitoring center called a central station. They are manned 24/7 which then retransmits the information to the appropriate county’s 911 communication center and this is where the problem begins.
Most fire panels can get their signal to the 3rd party facility in under a minute and in some cases under 30 seconds. It then on average takes 1-2 minutes for the 3rd party operator to pick up the phone and place the call to 911. The information is displayed on their terminal by the automation software being used by the central station alarm receiver. When the 3rd party operator calls the 911 operator they then have to type in the information they receive. That information is then sent to dispatchers who using CAD Computer Operated Dispatch computers designed to help determine which fire units are called.
This is where time starts to bog down. I have seen 911 centers in SW Pa. take up to 9 minutes from the time they are called to when the tones to alert firefighters is sounded.
One way to close this gap would be to be able to have the information the 3rd party operator has on their screen also be able to be displayed on the 911 operators terminal when they are contacted. This information could then be instantly transferred to the dispatcher. Also 911 centers need to be much more aggressive in demanding from their CAD software vendors products, which can handle anomalies where you have communities with same sounding names and streets.
How many horror stories over the years have happened because the CAD software has screwed up and dispatch delayed? I had just such an example happen to me where I am converting systems over to a central station which where formally monitored directly at communities dispatch center.
I was having a problem at an apartment building which was causing a false fire alarm. The alarm was not giving an indication in the building as it should have where it was coming from, and after doing a preliminary check over of the system the problem turned out to be a bad smoke detector in the laundry area. I went up to the fire dept to talk to the duty officer to discuss a strategy to try and stop the false alarms when my phone rang. It was the central station the building was going off again and they had already contacted 911 before calling me. I got in my vehicle to meet the firefighters at the building but after I left it was still almost 2 minutes before they got notified from 911 which I heard coming over my scanner. This never would have happened when this community was dispatching its own calls. 2-3 minutes may not seem like a big amount but when it comes to a fire it can be life or death when in 3 minutes a room can be totally consumed by a fire. There is no golden hour like you have with serious trauma victims.
With all this new technology including the 911 center being able to send information right to the responding vehicles laptops it is time we look at the beginning of the call and making it more efficient there.