Monday, December 27, 2010

Stanislaus Regional 911 Center dispatchers blamed for response delay

Report blames 911 dispatchers for Oakdale fire mistake

OAKDALE — Officials have concluded that mistakes by two Stanislaus Regional 911 Center dispatchers were behind a several-minute delay in sending Oakdale firefighters to a house fire.
The fire occurred on California Avenue  (10-27-10) in Oakdale,
Two homes were involved.
Photo Credit:
Harvey Duncan
It took six minutes and 14 seconds to dispatch Oakdale firefighters to an Oct. 27 house fire, according to a recent report. Officials have said firefighters typically are dispatched in less than two minutes, and it's not unusual to dispatch them in less than a minute.

The delay did not make a difference for the vacant house that was on fire in the 200 block of California Avenue. It was destroyed and the cause has been ruled as arson.
But two neighboring homes sustained additional damage because firefighters were not promptly dispatched, according to the report of the incident recently issued by the city.

Oakdale police officers evacuated residents from nearby homes before firefighters arrived. Officials have said the only injury in the 1 a.m. blaze was to a firefighter who hurt his hand.

The dispatching errors occurred as follows:
  •  The first dispatcher did not verify the complete address before calling firefighters. She thought the California Avenue fire was in Modesto, not Oakdale, and dispatched Modesto firefighters to a nonexistent fire. There are California avenues in Modesto, Turlock and Oakdale. The report states this mistake caused a three minute and 14 second delay.
  • Once dispatchers realized the mistake, another dispatcher sent tones over the radio to Oakdale firefighters.
 The tones sound in the fire station and alert firefighters that they are about to be dispatched. But the call was dispatched on the wrong channel, and Oakdale firefighters did not hear it. They called the dispatch center, and the call was dispatched correctly. The report states this mistake caused a three-minute delay.

"No one is happy about how this call was handled," wrote Lucian Thomas, the 911 center director, in an e-mail, "not the involved dispatchers or the management of Stanislaus Regional 911. We try our best to be as accurate as possible so the appropriate emergency resources respond to where they are needed."

Thomas said the 911 center handles 450,000 to 500,000 calls annually, for law enforcement and fire agencies throughout the county except for Ceres police, Turlock police and fire, and Oakdale police, which have their own 911 dispatchers.

Emergency calls in Oakdale are routed to Oakdale police. A dispatcher there transfers 911 fire calls to the regional 911 center.

Thomas said he cannot recall another mistake of this magnitude at the dispatch center.
He said because it is an employer-employee matter and therefore confidential, he could not release the names of the two dispatchers or how they were disciplined. But he said in his e-mail that "after our investigation, appropriate disciplinary action was taken."

The review of the incident included developing procedures to improve communications between Oakdale police dispatchers and regional 911 center dispatchers.

For instance, Oakdale dispatchers now have a protocol to follow when they transfer a call to the regional 911 center in which they tell the dispatch center that the Oakdale Police Department is calling; the nature of the incident, such as a fire or car wreck; the address of the incident, including the cross street; and whether Oakdale police are responding.

Officials said on the California Avenue fire, the Oakdale dispatcher made a "blind transfer" on the initial 911 call to the regional dispatch center and did not give the center any information. But Thomas said that does not in any way lessen the fault of his dispatchers.

Officials said the protocol provides an extra safeguard when Oakdale dispatchers transfer calls to the regional dispatch center.

Oakdale fire and regional dispatch center officials also recently met with California Avenue residents to review the results of their investigation.

Modesto Fire Department investigator Ken White said the fire caused $150,000 damage to the destroyed home, $75,000 to one nearby home and $5,000 to another.

He said investigators believe the people who set this fire may be responsible for at least one other incident of arson. Oakdale contracts with the Modesto Fire Department for fire investigation work.

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