Sunday, June 18, 2017
S.J. [San Joaquin County] civil grand jury issues report on fire dispatches
San Joaquin County currently has 18 fire departments that are dispatched from two separate centers.
The San Joaquin County Regional Fire Dispatch Authority (Stockton Fire Dispatch) operates from the Stockton Fire Department, dispatching the fire departments of Lodi, Stockton, Tracy, Manteca and the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District. The remaining 15 districts, many of them in rural or unincorporated county areas, are dispatched by the Valley Regional Emergency Communications Center (VERCC) along with the Joint Radio Users Group (JRUG).
In a report released on Thursday, the 2016-2017 San Joaquin County civil grand jury found that a single countywide dispatch center would better serve the needs of the county and its citizens.
The investigation focused on emergency fire dispatch protocol, operations and infrastructure, seeking to determine whether a single dispatch center for the county would improve safety and reduce costs.
Other concerns included the dispatch centers using different technology, with Stockton Fire Dispatch’s technology nearing the end of its operational life, as well as the role that politics, egos and fear of change played in preventing the formation of a single countywide dispatch center.
According to the grand jury’s findings, the majority of fire departments support the proposed dispatch center, although some debated on how it should be structured.
In January of 2006, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors awarded American Medical Response (AMR) a five-year contract to create VRECC, a for-profit non-governmental company, to handle emergency fire dispatch for the county.
The grand jury’s report says that VRECC has state of the art fire dispatch technology such as computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and automatic vehicle locator (AVL) systems.
Their CAD system, which determines which protocols to use, which emergency vehicles are closest and which routes to the emergency are the fastest, was upgraded in 2016 when their contract with the county was renewed.
Stockton Fire Dispatch, a public agency, has updated its CAD system twice since it was installed in 1995, although many of the parts are either out of production or nearly obsolete, according to the report.
In October of 2016, the Stockton City Council approved $600,000 to replace their CAD system between late 2017 and early 2018, although no action has been taken yet.
The grand jury’s investigation also found that VRECC charges its fire departments $23.77 per dispatch, while Stockton Fire Dispatch charges $49.77. A consulting firm hired by the City of Stockton determined that merging with VRECC could save the city over $1.25 million a year.
In its report, the grand jury made several recommendations: By Oct. 1, the Stockton City Council must complete an evaluation of the feasibility of Stockton Fire Dispatch using VRECC’s CAD and AVL systems, and determine the feasibility of switching to the Stockton Police Department’s CAD system.
By Dec. 31, the county’s EMS Authority, JRUG and Stockton Fire Dispatch must develop a plan to form a single dispatch center and the city of Stockton must develop a plan to replace their existing UHF radio systems.
All county fire agencies must also develop a plan by the end of the year to purchase and install AVL for all emergency fire vehicles, and AVL must be deployed at the Stockton Fire Dispatch Center by Dec. 31, 2028.
Lodi Fire Chief Larry Rooney, chairman of the Stockton Fire Dispatch Joint Powers Authority, disagreed with a few of the recommendations.
While he does think that a single fire dispatch center is a good idea, he does not believe that it is feasible at this time, saying that his department has had no complaints with Stockton Fire Dispatch:
“It’s been 2-1⁄2 years and we haven’t had any problems,”
Rooney is in favor of automatic-aid agreements, though, saying that two dispatch centers working closely together would provide an added level of redundancy that could help prevent mistakes from occurring in emergency situations.
He also stated that Lodi Fire Department already has AVL technology ready for all of their emergency vehicles.
June 17, 2017
By John Bays