Regional Approach to Fire fighting

March 10, 2009 8:07:34 PM PDT
Consolidating debt is one way people reduce expenses and increase cash flow. But different kind of consolidation is helping several central valley cities do more with less in these tough economic times. It takes place inside an unassuming building in southeast Fresno filled with dozens of computer screens manned around the clock. The employees are paid by a private company who direct responses to medical and fire emergencies.The men and women who work at the Fresno County Emergency Medical Services Communication Center not only dispatch the ambulances of their employer ? American Ambulance but also the fire resources of five Central Valley Fire agencies. It begins when a 911 call is answered by one of the call-talkers, "Stay on the line, I'll tell you exactly what to do next."

Last year more than two hundred thousand calls sent paramedics and fire fighters to medical emergencies and/or fires in the Central Valley. The call takers maintain contact with the caller, "Ok, she's still awake right now?" The answers to their questions are being send via the inter-connected computers to the to equipment dispatchers across the room. The caller talks to just one person but several people are working to get help them. The goal of this dispatch center is to have the appropriate help on the way in under 60 seconds. Fresno and Clovis are among five valley fire agencies dispatched here and they tell us that goal is being met.

Acting Clovis fire Chief Rick Bennett says that has led to their response times improving, too. And his department is saving real money, "If we were to try to supply the same level of service through our own dispatch center in Clovis with the police department it would cost us probably 35 to 40 percent more. So we're saving all of that money by using a private contract service."

Traditionally cities dispatch their own fire and police services at a combined center of their own. In 2006 Fresno fire chief Randy Breugman was looking to expand to a regional approach to fire fighting in the Central Valley. He moved his agency from the Fresno police dispatch center and contracted with the Fresno County EMS Com Center, "It's not always gonna save money but it may improve the ability to provide a higher level of service." He then encouraged other fire agencies and districts to do the same.

When Clovis fire came on board in 2007 the two cities agreed consider it too. Now dispatchers at this joint operation can send the closest fire resource available to the any emergency call.

This strategic approach says Brugman further improves response times and service to both cities, "All pieces of the puzzle that make the system more efficient from a dollar stand point, makes it more effective from a service standpoint. I don't know if it's saving money, but I think it's saving lives." It is, he adds, allowing fire department funds to be used for other purposes to improve the entire department.

To date the North Central Fire District, the Fresno Fig Garden Fire District and the city of Sanger Fire Department are also being dispatched from this growing regional contract operation. It may not be feasible for all of the Valley's fire agencies but Acting Chief Bennett thinks it is certainly an option to consider, "You have to look at it and say is there a correct fit, does it work well.?"

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