Ind. fire chiefs call for joint 911 center


By Benjamin Lanka
The Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Combining Fort Wayne's and Allen County's 911 dispatching centers would improve service and safety, according to fire departments from across the county.

Fire chiefs from numerous departments met with city and county officials Wednesday in an effort to push recommendations on how to make government work better.

The conversation included collective purchasing and the different needs between urban and rural areas, and everyone present appeared to support a joint dispatching unit.

The city and county have debated merging their emergency call center for years, the two are separated by a glass wall, but negotiations have often stalled because of disputes between the county sheriff and city police chief. Although some questioned whether a merger would save any money, the fire officials present agreed that a joint system could provide better fire dispatching service.

Don Patnoude, Southwest Fire District fire chief, said his department sometimes has problems with the county dispatching center because of its limited staffing. He said he has called a dispatcher handling a fire call looking for information, but he has been placed on hold while that person takes a different 911 call. He said he sometimes never gets his information, which can cause problems when he doesn't know whether a building is safe for his firefighters to enter.

"The dispatcher is also taking 911 calls, that is a problem," he said.

The city's fire dispatcher does not take 911 calls, Fort Wayne Fire Chief Pete Kelly said. The dispatcher is solely responsible for dispatching firefighters and relaying information.

Several fire chiefs believed a merger of the two departments would allow this level of service to be provided countywide. Even Kelly said the city fire dispatchers would likely be able to handle all the fire runs throughout the county without adding staff because there are so few fires.

Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said he was aware many fire departments supported a joint call center, but he didn't know the support was so enthusiastic. He said having their blessing is encouraging as the city and county try to finish negotiations on a merger, which he said is "not that far away."

Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York and Sheriff Ken Fries did not attend Wednesday's meeting, and there was no discussion about benefits and problems of 911 mergers from a police perspective.

The group is expected to meet again next month to further push ways to save money and provide better service.

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