Sunday, July 25, 2010


It happened again. Through a combination of errors, we had a 20 minute delay in receiving a dispatch to a multi- alarm fire. I understand how it happened, it is a system failure as much as a human failure, but it still pisses me off.

I knew the whole thing was screwed up as soon as I figured out that we had been assigned to the incident and went en-route. By then, it was too late to resolve the issue, we responded anyway, by-passing several other available engines. The additional chaos that would have been unleashed by trying to correct the error would have created an even longer response time. We weren't the only unit that this happened to on this incident.

The only reason we found out we were assigned to the call, was when I happened to be near a scanner when I heard dispatch give the I.C. a run down on responding units and heard our unit mentioned.

Several policies and procedures were not followed during this incident, at least one of which would have caught the error and resolved it. The whole chain of events however, could have been stopped if the initial dispatcher had just done the proper procedure.

 We have two different dispatch systems in the district, about half of the stations and the overhead are on one system, half of the stations are on another. If dispatch tones a station on system "A" that uses system "B", nothing goes to that station. No tones, no gong and no printout. The station computer nor the MDC will receive any indication of a call.

Typical dispatch console. Image kyped from the internet

If that happens, dispatch is supposed to telephone the station after three minutes, if we don't come up on the radio or hit the responding key on the MDC by that time. That did not occur either.

It all started when the fire broke out in a community on the far side of the K.B.F.P.D. Once it was determined that they had a working fire and that units would be committed for quite some time, we were assigned to move up and cover a station that had responded on the initial alarm.

Apparently, the dispatcher toned us out on the wrong system, so we never got the word. Shortly thereafter, The IC started screaming for more units, including mutual aid from neighboring departments. We got lost amidst the chaos.

As system "A" had us moved up to another station, it assumed we were in that district and sent us to the fire when more resources were requested. But, we weren't there. We were still in our station, blissfully unaware that our services were needed.

My firefighter actually heard this dispatch on the scanner and brought it to my attention. I checked the printer and MDC, neither of which indicated anything for us. I also called dispatch to inquire whether there was traffic for us. The dispatcher who answered the phone advised me that no, there was not any traffic for us. I assumed my firefighter had heard it wrong and went about my business.

15 minutes or so passed before I heard us mentioned on the scanner. A second call to dispatch was met with an incredulous "I sent you guys twenty minutes ago".

Holy shit, not again. We went en-route, in a most expeditious manner. You see, I have received several phone calls over the past year, each one with the incredulous voice asking "you're still there?"

It's always the same issue. Toning us out on system "A" rather than on system "B". I am told that there is a list posted on the console which clearly states which station is on which system. I understand that when a fire goes to additional alarms, the workload in dispatch goes through the roof. However, there has to be a solution.

Therein lies my rub. This keeps happening, despite numerous memos, phone calls and personal conversations. 

We are trying to convert all stations to the same system, but it is a costly proposition. For now, the solution is going to have to be an internal one, using existing resources. The main issue is that we have NO control over our dispatch, it is controlled by law enforcement. Frankly, we are a low priority to the communication division management. I don't expect real change anytime soon.

Our agency dissolved it's communication center 20 years ago. We are still paying the price. As individuals, most of our dispatchers do a great job and have won numerous awards over the years. The system, however sucks.

Thanks for reading,
A frustrated Schmoe


  1. Dear Captain,
    Oh, I would think hell had no fury.

    I hope you did the CYA. Without the CYA you don't get the Dough-Ray-Me.

    Ann T.

  2. Cpt. Schmoe,
    Out of curiousty, how many dispatchers are in there at a time? Are they responsible for 911 also? And how many agencies do they dispatch for? If you don't want to say that's fine, I only wonder if the work load is to much.

    I would like nothing more then to dispatch fire only, I'll come work for your fd so you can have your own communication center again! :)


  3. Ann t. - Oh yeah baby, CYA are my middle initials.

    911R - I am not sure how many are in the center, but there is only one on the fire console. When things are slow, the fire dispatcher also takes 911 calls, as it is a PCAP. When it hits the fan, a supervisor or another dispatcher is supposed to come over and assist. That's fine, except that usually when a large fire occurs, the call takers are swamped as are the PD dispatchers. Sometimes the fire dispatcher is on his/her own.

    It really is a staffing issue. I know this but it still pisses me off.

  4. Capt Schmoe:
    Oh, I cannot see one set of dispatchers handling both cops and firefighters. That would make for an ugly workload. Not to mention, they really have different demands and skills for the dispatchers.

    To combine them would be an arrangement that invites SNAFU.

    The Observer

  5. We do a lot of complaining about our dispatchers here in Providence, but never has anything like you described happened. Sorry for your troubles, and keep the faith!

  6. Oh Capt. I've been on BOTH sides of this SNAFU. Neither is fun, in fact I'll call it anxiety laden and frustrating for all involved. I feel your pain.

  7. And understandably so, it pisses me off just knowing about it, I can't imagine having to deal with it. I'm sorry that this has to happen at all. Thanks for answering my questions!!