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Posted: 05/21/14

Officials still at odds
over WTFD dispatch switch

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Miscommunications about emergency communications are continuing to create tension between Washington Township and county officials.
       Washington Township Supervisor Dan O'Leary updated the Board of Trustees at the May 7 meeting on the decision to have Oakland County Dispatch Center handle emergency calls for the Washington Township Fire Department (WTFD).
       In particular he addressed comments made by County Executive Mark Hackel last month that said the township's decision could cause potential harm to public safety and that Macomb County can handle the calls.
       "We have no obligation to bow to Mr. Hackel," O'Leary said. "He runs the county, he works for us, he does not run our fire department, we run our fire department."
       The current setup for dispatch has the Macomb County Sheriff's Office receiving all emergency calls for the township. Police matters go to the sheriff's office, while fire or medical emergencies are sent to the WTFD to take over the call and manage the situation.
       "For the most part it is a very brief announcement to us as to how to go or what to do, and our person handles it from there," O'Leary said.
       This ties up a firefighter at the WTFD, who could otherwise be going into the field to assist with the emergency.
       By contracting with Oakland County, the calls would still come to Macomb County's dispatch, but Oakland County will take over instead of WTFD. By doing so, the firefighter can go on the run.
       The board agreed in April to pursue the contract. If approved, the contract would expire in June 2015, but can be canceled through a 90-day notice. O'Leary said Oakland was chosen over Macomb County's new communications center, COMTEC, because it isn't ready to handle the calls.
       "It's offensive for the county executive to play politics because he was hurt because he wasn't chosen as the outsource agent, and tell our residents that we're jeopardizing public safety when he doesn't even have the information," he said.
       Hackel said that transferring calls to Oakland County could lead to safety concerns, as the call could be dropped. Additionally, he said the township's switch would require changes to dispatch protocol.
       "If there is something we can do to accommodate them after we get the 911 call so that somebody else can dispatch . . . we'll gladly do that," he said. "If it entails us transferring a 911 call, we're not putting the public at risk."
       Hackel, a former dispatcher, explained a different dispatch protocol from O'Leary, saying the sheriff's office keeps the call and the dispatcher alerts the fire department of the situation.
       "Whoever it is they would like us to contact to send their personnel to the scene we will gladly do that, but we're not going to change what we're doing by transferring a call," he said.
       O'Leary said the transfer could be a three-way call, but is still being determined. He noted the township's approval of the contract depends on working out the transfer process between the counties.
       "We will not sign the contract unless we are comfortable with the process for a three-way call," he said.
       Aside the transferring issues, O'Leary said aspects to be discussed include whether all radios can work with one another and the details on a proximity dispatching system.
       Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said a meeting held May 9 gave a better understanding of how Oakland wants the agreement to work, so he and other officials will determine the best practices from there.
       "I haven't made any definitive decision yet, but we'll probably talk with Oakland (this week) with how we think this will work," he said.
      
COMTEC concerns

       Hackel said concerns over COMTEC's capabilities are puzzling, as the center currently handles fire and police dispatch for Clinton Township and will soon do the same for Sterling Heights.
       "This whole idea of we can't do something or aren't ready for something is extremely inappropriate," Hackel said. "What we're doing now is what we do for everyone, and why this is unacceptable now for Washington Township I really don't know."
       O'Leary said Oakland County's software provides protocol such as how to respond to specific emergencies and whether the responders need to use lights and sirens. It also provides reports on information such as when calls are received, when trucks receive them and when the responders make it to the site.
       He believes Macomb County is still building up its software and personnel while Oakland County can provide established software, quality assurance reports and experienced dispatchers. Oakland County handles dispatch for 17 fire departments.
       "We know what Oakland County delivers, they've been doing it for years," O'Leary said. "Macomb is forming this. We go to Macomb now when they're forming it, we're part of their beta site."
       O'Leary said if Macomb County wasn't willing to cooperate the township could pursue legal action or possibly switch all emergency calls to Oakland and contract with them for policing.
       "I suspect that the sheriff would be forced by Mr. Hackel to cancel our police contract," he said. "I don't want to go that route, we have great deputies in our town."
       Hackel said he didn't believe it would make sense to switch over all calls, but wasn't going to question the township's motivation.
       "I'm not here to debate personalities, I'm here to debate an issue," Hackel said.
       WTFD Fire Chief Brian Tyrell supports the Oakland County contract alongside O'Leary's fellow board members. Clerk Kathy Bosheers said she believes the WTFD is looking for ways to improve services.
       "I firmly believe that there is no way our fire department would have brought this if this wasn't the right idea for our township," she said. "I know we made the right decision."


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