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Posted: 04/30/14

County, local officials
butt heads over dispatch

Observer Staff Writer
      Washington Township's decision to switch its fire department's dispatch to Oakland County is drawing ire from Macomb County officials.
       The Washington Board of Trustees voted unanimously on April 2 to have Oakland County Dispatch Center handle calls related to fire or medical emergencies. The cost is not expected to exceed $50,000 for a year-long contract that would begin in June.
       The current setup for the Washington Township Fire Department's (WTFD) dispatch has all 911 calls going to Macomb County. From there, the county gathers the information and sends the situation to the WTFD, where a firefighter mans a dispatch desk to handle the call.
       With Oakland County, the call would still go to Macomb County, but a three-way call would be established so Oakland County can manage it.
       Fire Chief Brian Tyrell said the switch will help bring the department's communication rating up with Insurance Service Office (ISO) standards and reduce the strain on his department.
       "Public safety will not be jeopardized, response times will not be delayed," Tyrell said. "Dispatch is important, that is why we took this innovative, forward-thinking stance."
       Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel believes WTFD's decision wouldn't be good for public safety, saying there is a chance of losing the call during the transfer and putting the caller at risk.
       "Having that transferred from the primary transfer point to some other location goes against everything and anything anyone knows about answering a 911 call," he said.
       He called the idea impractical and improbable, saying the township should've first discussed it with the county.
       "If I were sheriff I would never suggest switching that call over, it would not happen," he said. "I would just deny that taking place."
       Washington Township Supervisor Dan O'Leary said Hackel may be displeased, but it is not his decision to make. He said if the county executive tries to interfere with the contract, the township would pursue legal action.
       "Mark Hackel is disappointed we didn't outsource to him, so he is objecting to it," O'Leary said. "We may have to take him to court to show him that you do not interfere with our rights."
       O'Leary said the township didn't want to switch to Macomb County's new $13.5 million dispatch center, known as COMTEC, because the county isn't ready to handle the WTFD's dispatch.
       "He (Hackel) doesn't have his act together today, he can't bully me into not doing the right thing for my residents," he said.
       O'Leary said by entering into a one-year agreement with Oakland County, it provides the township a chance to evaluate how the agreement is working and to see whether COMTEC is a better option when it's ready.
       Hackel said making the switch for a better ISO rating shouldn't come before public safety. ISO ratings are based on a community's abilities to surpress and prevent fires, evaluating the fire department's personnel, water system, communications and other factors. A lower ISO rating, equates to lower insurance for residents.
       Washington Township has a spilt rating of nine and five, with the lower number credited to areas with hydrants. O'Leary said the ISO will likely improve because Oakland County's dispatch is highly rated, but it wasn't the basis of the decision.
       Tyrell agreed, saying a main benefit is that he can send out all of his personnel on a call instead of leaving a trained firefighter at a desk.
       "It's the cost of $50,000 compared to a full-time, highly-trained paramedic firefighter left behind," he said. "The value of the firefighter far outweighs $50,000."
       Even so, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham agreed with Hackels's concerns that the three-way call doesn't seem like a good system.
       "What they do is their call, but when it comes to 911 calls coming into our center, we should be consulted before decisions are made to make sure those decisions will work," he said.
       He said COMTEC is in the process of setting up its computer system to become more robust, and is hoping it'll be ready by the beginning of 2015.

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Retrieved 7/2/2015 at 5:29:35 PM.
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