Currently, Dallas County Emergency Medical Services is dispatched by two separate dispatch centers, including the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and the Perry Police Department.
Mike Thomason, Director of Dallas County EMS, is looking for approval from the Dallas County Board of Supervisors to run their operations out of just one dispatch center, which would be out of the Dallas County Sheriff’s office.
“With two dispatch centers, communication can break down between the two dispatch centers,” Thomason said. “And when that happens, we, being the third party, sometimes have disadvantages to that, or repercussions to that.”
He said that by going down to one dispatch center, along with the Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system the board approved on Tuesday, will help them better manage their fleet of ambulances and better know its status.
“We’re trying to optimize our system so that we can better serve the public and better serve ourselves even just to make sure we know where each other are and what we’re doing,” Thomason said.
Eric Vaughn, Perry Police Chief, said that the Perry Police Dispatch Center can do the same things that Dallas County’s can do, but the problem is that they have two different systems, which has caused issues with the Dallas County crew. Vaughn said that Dallas County moving to just one dispatch center would be “removing a layer of information.”
Thomason said that currently, if someone calls 911 in Perry and says that they need an ambulance, the Perry Police Department can dispatch a Dallas County ambulance themselves. Under the new system that Thomason is suggesting, the Perry Dispatch Center would either send the information along to Dallas County, or transfer the call to Dallas County for them to dispatch the ambulance.
The exact procedure would need to be discussed before the policy goes into effect.
Lori Riley, of the Perry Police Department’s Dispatch Center, says that they try to keep up with the Dallas County ambulances through their CAD systems, but the communications don’t always come through to them, depending on from where in the county it is coming.
“For instance, if we hear that Dallas County has paged an ambulance to Redfield, my dispatcher will “CAD” that so that she is aware — it’s on her CAD — that says ‘94’ is going to Redfield,” Riley said. “So we can hear each other’s traffic, so we have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, provided that we can hear it.
“Sometimes we can’t hear the units that are in the southern part of the county, so unless their dispatcher repeats their traffic, we may not get all their traffic. All we get is static at this point until the new radios come online. Then we shouldn’t have that issue.”
Terry McClanahan, Dallas County 911 coordinator, said that when things are busy on their end, they don’t always keep up with Perry’s traffic.
“Even with multiple dispatchers working on every shift, you can’t always keep track of another PSAP’s (Public Safety Answering Point) information other than a broadcast,” McClanahan said.
Thomason said that the flaw in the system occurs when there is a fourth request when their three ambulances are already out on a call.
“Because all of that information is shared between two dispatch centers, what we’re finding is that ability to allocate quickly isn’t there,” Thomason said. “So if I can have my information in one pot, for example, that decision making can be done faster, more efficiently, and better serve the public.”
He said that while no one has ever been jeopardized under the current systems, there have been enough near misses that he doesn’t want to “keep rolling that dice.”
He also said that they have agreements with surrounding counties, such as Boone and Guthrie, but the agreements are only in cases where they are available to help.
“An example would be if we were to request to come up and help cover Perry, Boone County has the option to say ‘no,’ because they have no duty to act, they only agreed if they have available services, they will provide those services,” Thomason said. “So if Boone says ‘no,’ then we need to know, we need to roll to Guthrie, or to Jefferson, or to somewhere else rapidly and move that succession.”
Thomason said that the suggested change could help speed that process up.
While Thomason said that there are benefits to operating out of one dispatch center, he also admits that there are some drawbacks.
“One (reason to move away from the Perry dispatch center) is, I’ve got to make sure it’s seamless and that the Perry residents don’t get any less care or less timing than the residents of the rest of the county,” Thomason said.
That is also Vaughn and Riley’s concern.
Thomason made a point of making it clear that the suggested change is not due to the quality of the work the Perry Dispatch Center does.
“We love Perry Dispatch. We think Perry Dispatch is a great dispatch,” Thomason said. “What we’re finding is that because there’s two dispatch entities, that’s where we find a breakdown. It’s not Perry, it could be anybody, and I want to stress that to the public, that it’s nothing against Chief Vaughn.”
No decision was made on this on Tuesday as they will work to get specifics worked out between Dallas County EMS and the Perry Police Department.