Computer hub could speed emergency response

Five Metro North agencies agree to computerized dispatch tool

Posted 3/12/18

A new computer hub could trim the time that firefighters in the northern metro Denver region need to respond to emergencies in their neighboring agencies’ boundaries. The fire departments from …

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Computer hub could speed emergency response

Five Metro North agencies agree to computerized dispatch tool

Posted

A new computer hub could trim the time that firefighters in the northern metro Denver region need to respond to emergencies in their neighboring agencies’ boundaries.

The fire departments from Thornton, Westminster, Adams County, Metro North and City and County of Broomfield have agreed to participate in buying a computer-aided dispatch hub that will let their computer systems talk to each other directly — and respond more quickly in case of an emergency.

“There are three factors that determine an agency’s response time — dispatch time, turnout time and travel time,” Thornton Fire Chief Gordon Olson said. “We are always working on reducing turnout time, the time it takes our firefighters to react, get ready and jump on their rig and roll out. Travel time, we know we can’t due much more unless we build twice as many fire stations. That leaves dispatch, and anything we can do to speed that helps.”

The fire departments in the area have had mutual aid agreements with each other for decades. Those agreements allow departments to call upon each other for help when there’s a big fire or an emergency that demands an overwhelming response.

“Mutual aid says that we have an agreement that we can call you and ask you for help,” Olson said. “Say we have a big fire an we need six firetrucks, we can call our neighboring agencies and they will respond to help us.”

Olson said the agencies have been updating those agreements with automatic aid agreements for the last ten years. Those allow dispatchers to call for help from neighboring agencies when the situation calls for it with going through fire department hierarchies.

Those can scramble emergency responders more quickly but it’s still a person-to-person interaction — one dispatcher on the phone calling another.

“What we’ve found, that can take up to three minutes,” Olson said. “They have to take abreak from what they are doing, pick up a phone, dial another communication center and ask them if they can help. Of course, three minutes talking to another agency, in the fire and EMS world, is a long time.”

The new system would link each agency’s computer dispatch system to a central computer hub.

“A hub is a central communication point that lets the dispatch system communicate with each other in their own same language automatically and quickly,” Olson said.

Dispatchers would be able to call for help from neighboring agencies with a push of a button. Olson said he expects the new system could shave three minutes off of dispatching time.

“Now we have all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Olson said. “Ultimately, we all try to get a response time to incidents in eight minutes or less. We know that in six to ten minutes a cardiac arrest can lead to brain death and fires can extend from their room of origin. So we are trying to get our response time down under eight minutes.”

Westminster Fire Chief Doug Hall said it’s a logical upgrade to years of inter-agency agreements.

“It gives us the opportunity to get the full benefit of our automatic aid agreements,” Hall said. “But the real benefit is from the computer program. The responding agencies will be able to get the all of the necessary information they need just as if it was in their own community.”

The new $1.2 million central hub is being funded grant from the Denver Urban Area Security Initiative. The grant provides $710,000 and the agencies provide the remaining $500,000.

The intergovernmental agreement is being signed by the agencies. Once everyone has signed on and paid their share of the grant match, they’ll begin advertising for someone to build and program the dispatch hub.

He hopes to have the vendor start work this summer, with the hub coming online by the end of the year.

“The sooner the better,” Olson said.

It’s the shape of things to come, he said.

“It’s the way technology is shaping things,” Olson said. “All of the departments have gone to automatic vehicle locations, with GPS on every apparatus. Pretty soon we’ll let the computer just pick the closest piece to a given emergency, regardless of the boundary. There are a lot of cooperative agreements and us working together.”

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