Dispatch problems delay Okla. firefighters on calls

A malfunctioning fire dispatch system delayed medical and fire calls and even sent some calls to the wrong stations

Tulsa World

TULSA, Okla. — City officials believe that they have a malfunctioning fire dispatch system fixed and will monitor the issue to make sure, they said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, two city councilors say they want to know why the city's new dispatch system has been delaying or failing to dispatch fire calls.

As reported in the Tulsa World on Wednesday, city emails state that the TriTech Software Systems computer-aided dispatch — or CAD — system is delaying dispatch of some medical or fire calls, failing to dispatch others and possibly sending calls to the wrong stations. The city formed a working group in October to address the technical problems.

Deputy Fire Chief Scott Clark said the city and its vendor employed a fix to the new dispatch system Wednesday.

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

He said that on Monday, printers that provide paper copies of fire calls to firefighters will be reactivated. The machines had been disconnected in an attempt to fix the dispatch issues, and firefighters relied on laptop computers for call data.

The computer-aided dispatch system installed in August at a total cost of $2 million apparently does not communicate smoothly with the city's existing "Zetron" fire dispatch system, emails state.

City Councilor Phil Lakin said he has been gathering information on calls in which errors may have occurred.

"I want that very expensive system to work like it should, and I know (the) Fire (Department) does, too. We know that every single minute counts, especially in the first responder network."

Records show that firefighters and dispatchers have reported at least 30 call errors with the city's dispatch system since Dec. 26. About half of the fire or medical calls were delayed in being dispatched by the system — one by up to four minutes. The remainder were not dispatched by the new system at all, records show.

In about half of the problem calls, dispatchers used manual backup systems, records show.

Calls in question include a baby born prematurely at a west Tulsa home last month. Tulsa police officers resuscitated the baby following the birth.

Another questioned call involved a cardiac arrest case on Saturday, records show.

Dispatch of a Dec. 26 call at 201 S. Garnett Road was delayed four minutes. The call was canceled before the station received it from the new system, records show.

Clark said the dispatch issues have not posed a safety risk because of multiple backup systems the city uses. If the new computer system fails to properly dispatch a call, dispatchers can use an older 800 mhz system and other methods, he said.

Firefighters were also ordered to conduct a 24-hour "standing watch" at each station to ensure that they are receiving the proper calls, records show.

Lakin said he and other councilors plan to talk Thursday to Fire Chief Ray Driskell about the dispatch issues "so we can know what the problems are, the depth of the problems and when the problems will be absolutely resolved."

"While I know that we have adequate backup systems in place, I know fire is working very hard on this," Lakin said.

City Councilor Karen Gilbert said the problems are "very frustrating" for the city.

"I know that we have the best firemen and women serving our city and they would do anything to protect and serve the citizens of Tulsa."

Chad Miller, president of the Tulsa International Association of Fire Fighters Local 176, said he hopes the dispatch system is fully functioning.

"The information I got from the administration today is that it appears to be working, but no one is ready to say for certain that it's fixed."

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