Dispatch changes aim to boost emergency response

Posted: Monday, May 13, 2002

Police and fire officials say merging emergency dispatch departments, which took place earlier today, should get help to Juneau residents faster in emergencies.

All crime, emergency medical and fire calls will be routed through one central dispatch unit at the police station, said Erran Kalwara, JPD's 911 coordinator.

The merger has been a year in the making, Kalwara said, and is intended to make the 911 system in Juneau more efficient, including getting medical help to people faster.

Emergency medical calls make up more than 80 percent of the calls the fire department responds to, Kalwara said.

The old system funneled calls through one of nine JPD dispatchers to a fire department dispatcher at the Glacier fire station, said Assistant Fire Chief Mike Fenster. The fire dispatcher then would send out firefighters or emergency medical staff from the appropriate station, Fenster said.

"This should save us at least one full minute during an emergency," said Kalwara. "Instead of calling us at JPD in an emergency, giving us all the information, having us transfer the call to the fire department and having to repeat the info all over again to their dispatcher which can get really frustrating for the caller who just wants you to send help all before anyone is dispatched, the call will go through one center and be dispatched immediately while the caller is on the line."

Kalwara said the new setup also will allow dispatchers to offer medical assistance to callers before help arrives. Earlier this year dispatchers received beginning emergency medical training, which allows them to help give a caller basic first aid and CPR instructions, Kalwara said. A set of flip cards at each dispatcher's station was created to help dispatchers give assistance. The cards, developed with the help of Ken Brown, a local emergency room doctor, include a list of symptoms the dispatcher will use to determine what is wrong with the person who needs assistance.

"With this system people are able to start getting help within seconds as opposed to the average four to six minutes it takes for help to arrive on the scene," Kalwara said. "People should expect to stay on the phone with a dispatcher until help arrives. They should also be prepared to answer more questions. We're not trying to pump them for info but it helps us help them better."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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