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Rural Fire Departments seeking better communications from 9-1-1 Dispatch

Rural Fire Departments seeking better communications from 9-1-1 Dispatch

By R.L. Thompson

Representatives from the County Fire Fighters Association, Dick Ladd (President of the Association) and James Whisenant, addressed the Okfuskee County Commissioners during their meeting on Monday, November 27, regarding dispatch for the 9-1-1 system.

Ladd commented on the amount of static on the line. He said the vehicle-to-vehicle communication is clear, but officers cannot understand the dispatcher at all due to static.

Okfuskee County Commissioner Chairman James Yandell asked if anyone had looked at the system?

Okfuskee County Emergency Director Jim Bill Copeland was also in attendance. Copeland said that he had people come and look at the system and cannot locate the problem. He believes the dispatchers may be using the floor button to speak instead of keying up the microphone. In a follow up interview later in the day, Emergency Management Director Copeland stated that “is probably not the issue but will be something they will definitely look at and make sure.”

Ladd and Whisenant both stated when Marty is on duty, they have no problems and when Angela is on duty they have no issues, emphasizing “she will call your cellphone in the middle of the night if you don’t respond”.

The 9-1-1 Dispatch is located in and incorporated with the Okemah Police Department. Copeland said the 9-1-1 dispatcher is a county dispatcher and not just an Okemah Police Department dispatcher.  Okemah Police Chief Patrick Williams stated they “dispatch for nine rural fire departments and three other pd (police departments) including ours.”

Sheriff Rasmussen, who was also in attendance, opined that maybe the dispatcher was not changing channels to allow the repeaters to work in the field.

Whisenant focused on the urgency of the conversation when he stated a 92-year-old man called 9-1-1 this past weekend when his house caught fire and it was 20 minutes before the dispatcher dispatched the rural fire department.  He said, “it almost cost a 92-year-old man his life.”

The Okemah News Leader reached out to Okemah Police Chief Patrick Williams concerning this incident.  Williams said “The call came in at 10:31, RP (reporting person) didn’t know his address, so it took three minutes to determine which fire department to send. Bearden was contacted at 10:36 and dispatch also contacted Hughes County due to the close proximity to the county line. Total call was five minutes.”

County Clerk Dianne Flanders said this is something the 9-1-1 Board should be addressing. Chairman Yandell stated the 9-1-1 board had not met in months.  Jim Bill Copeland, who is a member of the board stated there are two openings on the board that need to be filled. District One needs an appointment and a member at-large. Current Board members are Dan Parish, Jim Bill Copeland, Relena Haddox, Marty Branscum and Jerry Anderson.

Flanders stated the board has only met in special meetings over the last couple of years and she recommended they meet monthly to review financial reports. The meeting schedule needs to be filed by December 15 with the county.  If they met monthly, these types of issues could be addressed.

Copeland talked about using some of the 9-1-1 funds to increase salaries for dispatchers. There was also discussion of possible grants to upgrade the equipment.  The question remained at the end of the discussion if the equipment was the problem or dispatcher related errors regarding communication.

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