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Switching to Firecom: The Debate Continues

Career force says there's discrepancies in ICMA report data.

All Garden City Fire Department dispatching duties were turned over to Nassau County Firecom Aug. 6.

One of 14 recommendations included in an 85-page report provided by International City/County Management Association (ICMA) analyzing the village's fire services, Chief Charles Cavarra says it's a much more "effective and efficient" system that decreases dispatch time.

"The only way I can really equate it is back in the 70s when you called the operator to call your grandmother who lives in California," he said. "You no longer have to call an operator. The first call or first alert goes directly to Firecom, which dispatches the call immediately. Essentially and effectively we've shaved probably four minutes off our dispatch time ... and it's shaved probably in the neighborhood of four to five minutes off our total response."

Cavarra also said the move doesn't cost the village a thing and takes some of the workload off firefighters who can now "concentrate on getting apparatus out, getting equipment moving" as opposed to having to look up cross streets and fire hydrant locations, which is all now done through the dispatching with Firecom.

Trustee Nick Episcopia, who criticized citizens' remarks made on Patch about the issue, said the switch was an "excellent move."

"The opposition to this move by the career people was not based on an analysis of the 'firematics' but on job preservation," he said. "It is the opinion of the present and former chiefs that the old dispatch system was 'not' an efficient use of personnel. By law the chief is the head of the department and, in conjunction with his assistants, makes these decisions. The chief reports to the Board of Fire Commissioners which in Garden City is the board of trustees. We were elected to provide the residents and the business community with the best possible services in the most efficient manner. The change in the dispatch system clearly does just that."

Sources within the fire department dispute the ICMA report's data, contending the switch will actually increase response time.

The report states that a fire department should be able to dispatch a call in 1:30 minutes or less and have fire apparatus en route within one minute of that dispatch (page 31). The report further notes that travel time should be four minutes or less.

According to the report, based on a sample size of 21 calls for reported structure fires in 2011, dispatch and turnout time averaged 5.6 minutes, travel time 3.1 minutes and overall response time 8.7 minutes.

Sources within the department, however, say the report's average response time is off by at least 5 minutes. Based on numbers during a 10-month period in 2011, dispatch and turnout time averaged 1.10 minutes and average overall response time was 3.54 minutes.

"Our dispatch time on average was around a minute and ten seconds from receipt of call to hitting the tones," according to a source within the department. "Within that 1:10 minutes the outside companies are already boarding the apparatus and getting on the ground because they are listening to the phone call at the same time the guy in Headquarters is listening to the call. All three stations pick up. The firefighter in Headquarters takes the information. As soon as the outside companies hear the address and nature of the call they go."

Once en route to the call from Headquarters, the outside company relocates to Headquarters to take over the radio. "The only time Firecom manned the radio was during that little bit of in-between time it took for the company to get from there to here," according to the source.

The other likely scenario would be during a multiple-call situation, similar to what happened during Wednesday's fast-moving storm. "Firecom dispatched and there was actually some issues with information not getting relayed," the source told Patch.

Before the switch, a resident that called the village's emergency line got through directly to the fire department. "We answered the phone and we dispatched the call in a minute," he said.

"Firecom now has to go through the call. It's been more than a minute," he added, noting one recent call was close to four minutes by the time they dispatched the scene. "They were on the phone with the gentleman for almost 2:30 minutes. It was almost 3 minutes when they hung up. It took them another minute or so to dispatch. The difference is we wouldn't of let the guy talk for a minute and a half. We would've cut the guy off and asked for his address within 15 seconds."

Critics also argue that personalized service is no longer offered. "We have the local knowledge Firecom doesn't have. They don't have a clue what our buildings are and it's not a dedicated phone for Garden City," said another source who also wished to remain anonymous.

Trustee Dennis Donnelly said the urgency in switching to Firecom was that of safety. "There could've been a fire in the three weeks between that [July 30] meeting and today and it's our responsibility knowing we could save that time to implement that program as soon as possible. We did nothing to restructure the fire department. But the safety reasons in terms of the ability to respond to a fire quicker than we could before we took that action."

Was switching to Firecom the right move? Let us know in the comments.

Lil August 22, 2012 at 04:39 PM
So what this is telling me is that I am not talking to the firemen in the firehouse in Garden City anymore. How messed up is that?
Lynda August 28, 2012 at 12:11 AM
That's right Lil. From now on you will have to talk to a Firecom dispatcher, answer his questions regarding your emergency and then he will call fire headquarters with your info. A five year old can tell you that two phone calls take more time than one. All our residents should be complaining.
RSN August 29, 2012 at 10:06 PM
LMN you are completely misinformed. The old way of dispatching required 2 PHONE CALLS. The new way only requires ONE. The Firecom dispatcher DOES NOT call headquarters with your info. Instead he immediately dispatches the call. A five year old would do a better job of getting their facts straight before they post inaccuracies.
JRN September 02, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I think the point trying to be made is that when you call the fire department emergency line directly, the trucks roll immediately. When you call 911 the dispatcher has to determine the nature of the emergency and the location before it can be routed to the appropriate agency. So technically it is a 2 step process prolonging response times. Now you want to close fire stations at night on top of the already increased response time. Bet the residents in those ends of the towns would not be happy knowing that!

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