March 16–Owensboro Fire Chief Steve Mitchell told members of the city-county 911 board Tuesday that firefighters need a better way to communicate with dispatch when firefighters are confronted by a disturbed person during an emergency run.
Mitchell told 911 board members that when firefighters face disturbed or intoxicated people on some runs, they ask dispatch to send city police officers to assist.
Dispatchers are trained to ask firefighters for details about the nature of the disturbance so they can give responding officers as much information as possible. But those questions can be heard publicly over the firefighters’ radios, Mitchell said.
As a result, the disturbed person becomes even more upset, Mitchell said.
“We had three incidents in one day when our guys were in front of (a disturbed person) and dispatch was making it worse,” Mitchell said. In one incident, “our guys were actually fighting,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t have time to talk” to dispatch.
During one incident, “it got to the point where our officer had to tell the dispatcher to keep quiet, because they were making the situation worse,” Mitchell said.
Daviess County Fire Chief Dwane Smeathers said county firefighters have “occasionally” had similar issues while on calls.
Owensboro Police Chief Art Ealum said one possible solution would be for firefighters to use the existing codes OPD and the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department use to communicate with dispatch. For example, a disturbance is called a “signal W,” and a “signal 20” lets officers know there is a person potentially suffering from a mental disturbance.
Mitchell said, “I personally don’t like the idea of adding (police radio) codes, because we’re supposed to be using plain language” during fire calls, but “we’ve got to come up with a way where aren’t making (disturbances) worse.
“There was a call yesterday and (the dispatcher) gave us a signal, and the chief responding said, ‘You’re going to have to tell me what that means,'” Mitchell said.
The chiefs said they would discuss the issue and look for a solution. Mitchell said he wants firefighters to be able to give dispatch information about a disturbance so dispatch and properly notify OPD, without exacerbating an already tense situation.
“I don’t want (police officers) coming in and not knowing what they’re coming into,” Mitchell said.
In other business Tuesday, the board 911 dispatch center Director Paul Nave said state legislators are expected to hear House Bill 585, a 911-related bill, sometime this week. House Bill 585 would raise the fee that people who use prepaid cell phones pay for 911 service. People who use prepaid cell phones pay less in 911 fees than people with long-term cell phone contracts.
People with long-term contracts pay 70 cents a month. Nave said the bill would “equalize what every cell phone should pay.”
“We’re not asking (prepaid phone users) to pay more than 70 cents,” Nave said after the meeting. “We’re asking them to pay an equal amount.”
Nave said he is optimistic the bill will be approved by the full House. The bill would then be sent to the Senate for consideration.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter
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