Dispatch glitches continue to delay Okla. firefighters

Firefighters say relying on the older and more manual methods threatens public safety

Tulsa World

TULSA, Okla. — Despite claims it had apparently been fixed, the city's new fire dispatch system continues to have technical issues, including a "crash" Monday night preventing the city from entering call information, records show.

"TriTech has crashed and we're unable to do status changes or enter calls," states an email sent to city officials at 9:47 p.m. Monday. "Operating off cards until we can get someone to fix it."

The email is from dispatchers who take reports of fires and medical emergencies regarding the city's new dispatch system, made by TriTech Software Systems.

The system has been delaying dispatch of some medical and fire calls, failing to dispatch others and possibly sending calls to the wrong stations, city emails state. The TriTech system does not communicate smoothly with the city's existing "Zetron" fire dispatch system, city officials have said.

The city has backup systems, but the firefighters' union president has said relying on the older and more manual methods places a burden on the system and threatens public safety.

In addition to responding to fire calls, Tulsa firefighters are first responders on serious medical calls.

City Councilor Blake Ewing said he plans to discuss the continuing issues with Fire Chief Ray Driskell during a council meeting Thursday.

"If this thing isn't the No. 1 priority in the city of Tulsa, then I think someone should have to answer for that," Ewing told the Tulsa World.

Kim MacLeod, a spokeswoman for the city, said in an email: "Mayor (Dewey) Bartlett and the city management team is focused on solving these issues so that the system works as it should. ... The issue has been elevated within the TriTech staff and our systems analysts, Fire, 911 and IT directors are now in direct contact with TriTech senior management to find a resolution."

MacLeod later added that according to city IT officials, dispatch issues Monday night were caused by human error.

"An incorrect log-on locked up the system, forcing a reboot. It was not a system failure," MacLeod said.

Darrin Reilly, chief operating officer for TriTech, said the company is working to address any technical issues. Due to backup systems the city has in place, "there's nothing that would impact system safety," he said.

"Any issue that they are raising is of concern to us. ... How we are handling those issues and was there truly a TriTech issue or was it a network issue, I will just leave it at that," Reilly said.

TriTech has more than 2,700 sites across the country and numerous sites with Zetron equipment, he said.

As reported in the World last week, the city has experienced widespread technical problems with its $2 million computer-aided dispatch system. The issues began to surface in August after the system was installed.

The city formed a working group in October to address the technical problems with the system.

Records show firefighters and dispatchers reported at least 30 call errors with the city's dispatch system between Dec. 26 and Jan. 7.

About half of the fire or medical calls were delayed in being dispatched by the system, one by four minutes. The rest were not dispatched by the new system at all, records show.

Chad Miller, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 176, said the technical issues continue to be "a huge problem."

"When you're talking about cards, you're literally writing things down on pieces of paper. ... It definitely is a safety concern. There's just more room for errors and for delays."

Firefighters were ordered to conduct a 24-hour "standing watch" at each fire station to ensure that they were receiving the proper calls, records show. The watch ended last week.

On Jan. 8, Deputy Fire Chief Scott Clark said the city and TriTech had employed a fix to the dispatch system.

"It was as good or better than it was with the old CAD system. We are really hopeful," Clark said last week.

Ewing said he has heard from firefighters who don't believe "a resolution is imminent."

"I am concerned it hasn't been fixed. I think that they announced they thought it was fixed just prior to that. ... It looks like we should be a little more careful to declare that."

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