New dispatch system streamlines Mass. fire dept. response
Mobile 911 calls have been processed directly through the Barnstable Police Department's new dispatch center, significantly reducing emergency response times
By Geoff Spillane
Cape Cod Times
HYANNIS, Mass. — Mobile calls for fire and medical emergencies in the Cape's largest village are no longer answered 40 miles to the north in Middleboro.
The Hyannis Fire Department will move into a new state-of-the-art $18.5 million headquarters in the coming weeks, but its new dispatch system has been up and running for most of the summer.
Mobile 911 calls for fire and medical assistance in Hyannis have been processed directly through the Barnstable Police Department's new dispatch center since July, significantly reducing emergency response times.
The calls previously were transmitted by cell towers to a Massachusetts State Police dispatch center in Middleboro, then forwarded to the Barnstable Police Department, which, in turn, would forward them to the Hyannis Fire Department.
Police would often return to the line after fire apparatus was dispatched, meaning callers could have to speak to four different people when reporting an emergency.
"That was a big frustration for callers who were being bounced around," said Barnstable police Lt. Mark Cabral, who oversees the dispatch center with assistance from telecommunications supervisor Ross Lloyd.
With the mobile calls now being transmitted directly to the Police Department, time to get apparatus and first responders dispatched to emergencies has been reduced from two to three minutes to as fast as 20 seconds.
"There is no system in the state that lets you get an ambulance or fire vehicle rolling as fast as this," Cabral said.
The only place in the Hyannis Fire District where mobile 911 calls are still forwarded to Middleboro is along Route 6, where a geofence, or virtual perimeter, directs calls to the state police, who are responsible for patrolling the highway. Landline calls, no longer as frequent, still go directly to the fire station.
The Police Department's dispatch center, which resembles a high-tech war room with its dozens of video screens displaying maps, real-time data and other applications, underwent a more than $150,000 remodel earlier this year.
Four professional dispatchers, one designated for Hyannis Fire Department calls, are in the center at any given time to answer and direct emergency calls.
When a call for Hyannis Fire is received, the dispatcher enters critical data such as location and nature of the call, and newly installed dispatch software — through a robotic female voice — immediately broadcasts directly to the fire station which apparatus and crews need to be activated. While this is happening, and crews are heading out to the call, the dispatcher at the police station remains on the line to assist the caller and gather more information for the responders.
The center now employs 14 professional dispatchers, with three of the positions paid for by the Hyannis Fire Department.
Before the opening of the new dispatch center, police emergency calls were answered primarily by police officers and a two-person civilian staff, while a firefighter answered calls forwarded to the Hyannis station.
"An enormous amount of work has gone into training and preparation for the new dispatchers and system, and, as a result, it's going remarkably well," said Hyannis Fire Chief Peter Burke. "The dispatchers are doing a phenomenal job, and the relationship between Barnstable police and Hyannis Fire is strong as we work together on this joint initiative."
The Hyannis Fire Department serves one of five fire districts in Barnstable, raising the question of whether other districts will jump on board with the new dispatch system.
Establishing a consolidated dispatch center for emergency operations has been a topic discussed during monthly meetings of the town's fire chiefs, according to Cotuit Fire Chief Paul Rhude.
"It's a long-term plan that's probably a few years away," he said. "We all believe this is in the best interest of taxpayers and the town."
The fire chiefs from the town's other three districts — Frank Pulsifer in Barnstable, Joseph Maruca in West Barnstable and Michael Winn in Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills — either did not return calls or declined comment.
"If this works well, there should be no apprehension about townwide dispatch," Cabral said. "This is the first merger and everyone is looking at it."
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