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$173K DOJ grant helps Conn. FD improve dispatch alerting process

New London firefighters have relied on an antiquated, low-tech system to be alerted to calls


New London Fire Department Headquarters.

New London Firefighters, IAFF Local 1522/Facebook

By John Penney
The Day

NEW LONDON, Conn. — When it comes to responding to an emergency call, whether for a fire, crash or medical issue, seconds can count.

So, a dispatch alert notifying firefighters of the location and type of ongoing incident needs to come in clearly for personnel to quickly suit up and get rolling.

But the antiquated, low-tech system currently used in the city’s three fire stations too often comes through garbled, or at a volume level Chief Thomas Curcio called “piercing.”

“We’ve got major volume control issues now that means, depending on the specific dispatcher, a call is so loud, muffled or distorted we have to ask for a repeat of an address,” Curcio said Wednesday. “We’re just using speakers and PA systems, not the other modern components used at other departments around the country.”

The department expects to introduce a series of alert system upgrades this year thanks to a $173,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant approved for use this month by the City Council.

Curcio said hearing a tone out, a type of alert signal, can be particularly difficult during a noisy drill or for members working on the rigs. Conversely, the decibel levels of other alerts can be so loud as to cause pain.

”...which I believe contributes to hearing loss for our members,” Curcio and Deputy Chief Mark Waters wrote in a March 6 memo to Mayor Michael Passero and City Council President Efrain Dominguez Jr.

The grant funding will pay for new speakers, with adjustable volume control, that feature color-coded LED light displays able to be programmed to flash ― red for fire, blue for medical ― when an emergency call comes through.

“We’ll also be able to add monitors throughout all the stations ― we have none right now ― that display call information,” Curcio said. “Right now, the only way to see that info is on a computer in the chief’s or lieutenant’s office.”

Curcio said the monitors will be programmed to begin displaying call information as soon as a dispatcher enters an alert code.

“That means no delay,” he said, adding he hopes in the future to incorporate digitized, voice modulation software into the system. “So all alert messages coming over our speakers will sound exactly the same every time, no matter who is actually speaking into the dispatch microphone.”

At the Norwich Fire Department headquarters building on North Thames Street, alert monitors are in place but not yet active. But such a screen in the bay area of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department station does display call information, Chief Jeffrey Rheaume said.

“We have the vocal alert system, and whenever the dispatcher inputs call info to our (computer-aided dispatch) system, it also gives us a map on the monitor with the type of call, a map showing location and side streets, as well as the units assigned and even where the closest hydrants are,” Rheaume said. “So, when a vocal alert comes down through the speaker, responding firefighters can turn and look right over at that monitor and get a snapshot look at the call.”

The system upgrades will be added inside the New London department’s Bank Street headquarters station, the Lower Boulevard south station and the north station on Broad Street.

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