As many of you know, I follow events in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio pretty closely, especially in regards to their Fire/EMS service. This is partly because I have many friends and family who live there and I care passionately that they get the best possible care in the event they need Fire or EMS services. It is also because I know of no other city in the US where very simple changes in how Fire and EMS calls are dispatched could have a dramatically positive impact on response times and department effectiveness.
The most unfortunate part of all is that I am very familiar with the computer system that they utilize to Dispatch (Intergraph) and a related product known as Deccan. Neither of these tools are being used to their full potential. I should say I do not think this is because anyone in Columbus is heartless or incompetent. They have some of the best fire and EMS personnel in the US who do great work everyday.
However, what they lack, is a vision of Fire Service Communications as an integral tool to ensure effective outcomes for public safety. Fire Dispatching there has been seen by many as an ancillary function. I have been told by one Columbus official that dispatching is about "just following the model" with no room for adjustment; modification or the creative thinking that marks a quality dispatching operation. That is like saying your star quarterback should never change the play at the line of scrimmage or that you should just stick the direction of the compass, even when it leads you into the swamp. (Thank you Mr. Lincoln)
My experience in our profession has taught me something much different. That Dispatchers are capable of amazing things when treated like professionals. When given the skills and the training and the equipment and the authority to do their job, dispatchers can and do make miracles happen. That is why I love this job and why I am so honored to work where I do-- with a group of people who can and do make that kind of impact every day. The bitter irony, and another motivation for me regarding this topic, is that I was taught that way of thinking by Columbus Fire Dispatchers that served from the 50s to the 1980s. They were my mentors and I would love to see the Columbus Division of Fire honor their legacy by reinstalling the same values they taught me long before I ever processed my first 9-1-1 call or made my first relocation.
So what could CFD do to make things better? Well, it is simple really...
1) Activate the Deccan product. Program it to ensure that alerts are provided whenever any area of Columbus is unable to be reached by an Engine Company in (8) Minutes or by two Engine Companies in (10) minutes. When it recommends relocations-- start making them.
2) Connect the City Intergraph system with the suburban CAD systems ASAP. Using the same combined unit data table as was developed in the DC area, you can save assigning Automatic Aid units to runs that are not available. On a related note, build the interface to allow these runs to be transmitted seamlessly, shaving minutes off the dispatching times for these types of runs.
3) Utilize CFD Medic Units for BLS runs if they are within 10 minutes of the run, even if mutual aid unit is closer. For example, Medic-29 can take the BLS run at Meijer on Hamilton Road, even though Medic-133 is slightly closer. This reduces the on mutual aid units while keeping them available for time critical incidents.
4) Until the link is built in, adjust the ETAs of Mutual aid units by one minute, due to the delay in them getting dispatched. This will allow a more realistic and effective response to the border areas.
5) Designate Engine-Rescues as "Rescues" and Heavy Rescues as "Heavy Rescues" in the computer system. Allow The Engine/Rescues to respond as Engines to fires if they are in the closest three engines. This will get engines on the scene faster in areas such as Polaris and to use those Engine/Rescues more effectively. For example, a fire in Polaris would be: Engine-33; Rescue-111; Rescue-101; Ladder-33 & 111; Heavy Rescue 11; Medic-33 and Battalion-2.
6) End the dual rescue response to auto accidents unless there is clear indication of an extrication or an extrication is confirmed. Then have the assignment be: (2) Extrication Equipped Units, at least one of which must be a Heavy Rescue. This would increase availability and save the HRs from responding clear across the city when their services are almost never required.
7) All CFD units should monitor the primary dispatch channel at all times on at least one radio. This will help maintain situational awareness of nearby incidents and the need to redirect when required. The Intergraph CAD can be programmed to recommend the redirection of units-- from one call to another when they may be passing a new call, or when they would be better used at a higher priority event.
8) During storms, EMS units should respond alone to all but the highest priority medical events. This will help maintain Engines free for the 2nd call.
9) In the event that any surplus personnel are available on a shift, they should be provided to the busiest outer medic units as drivers (Medic 32,5, 29, 33, 26, 31, 30, 28, 22, 4)-- thereby keeping the Engines in service for the next run in that area. It kills response times to have Engines (with medics on board) follow another truck to medic runs instead of saving them for the next call where they will be of much better use. The new CAD can be programmed for this as well.
That's my suggestions for now. Perhaps someone will read them and at least think about them. Hopefully they do, but they will work for many other agencies as well.
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