New Texas dispatch system will send fewer fire trucks, firefighters

Only one emergency vehicle will be dispatched instead of two, depending on the nature of the emergency call

By Maggie Ybarra
The El Paso Times

EL PASO, Texas — Fewer firetrucks and firefighters will be dispatched to emergency calls after the Fire Department changes the way it responds to calls, officials said.

Fire Chief Otto Drozd said he plans to institute a new call system, named Priority Dispatch, in six months. The system, which cost about $500,000, has already been purchased by the El Paso County 911 District. The system will help dispatchers send the appropriate amount of manpower to fire and emergency calls, he said.

"We're already doing the training and we expect it to be implemented properly by January," he said.

Right now, a firetruck, ambulance and five firefighters respond to every emergency call.

But in six months, after all the department's dispatchers who staff the call center at 200 N. Kansas are trained on the new system, only one emergency vehicle will be dispatched instead of two, depending on the nature of the emergency call, Drozd said.

The system helps break down calls into five priority levels. Now, all calls are given the same priority.

The dispatchers will prompt callers to answer a series of questions before dispatching a firetruck or an ambulance, he said.

Fire Inspector John Concha said that 80 percent of the calls made to the call center are medical. Only 1 percent of the calls received at the center are about fires, he said.

Drozd said he has been looking at changing the city's dispatch and response system for more than a year.

"It's just a smarter way of doing business," he said. "We want to match the right resource to the problem."

In addition, the system will save money by conserving resources, Drozd said.

But the public is still the department's priority, he said.

"We're not really looking at it from a cost-saving perspective," he said.

"We're looking at it as a life-saving perspective: For every minute that a fire continues to burn, it grows exponentially. On the medical side, they say, 'time is tissue,' in terms of a heart condition."

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