Sheriff Fries letter to Commissioners Re: 9-1-1 Consolidation plan

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In today’s Commissioner’s Legislative Session, a letter or plan from Sheriff Ken Fries to the Commissioner’s regarding 9-1-1 Consolidation was referenced.

Text of the letter:

Public Safety must be the first priority when determining the best method of combining the 9-1-1 communications centers or whether combining should take place at all.  My first question is “will the combination get a first responder to your home more quickly?”  Those who claim it will be more efficient have yet to define the word efficient.  Who will be both accountable and responsible to all residents of Allen County?  Allen County encompasses 688 square miles of residents.  Some call the disagreements turf battles.  Others like to say bring down the glass wall that separates two of the County’s three centers.  If only it were that simple.  It is not.  It is all about public safety.

Already, our communications systems allow all local police agencies to speak to one another and hear what is being dispatched at all times thanks to City and County officials of the past.  Whether in blue or brown uniforms, officers assist each other every day.  Combining the dispatch centers will have no positive effect on the line officers.

When a 9-1-1 call comes into the County, the dispatcher who answers enters the information into the computer while speaking to the caller.  The 9-1-1 call should be a quick transfer of information from the caller to the first responder.  The proposed plan does not make this transfer of information any faster.  When a 911 call comes into the City, a call taker answers the phone and another person dispatches the appropriate first responder.  Three Rivers Ambulance Authority calls are not dispatched from the City’s center, but rather from their own center in another building.  With the County, a caller gets one stop shopping.  New Haven has the third dispatch center in the County with one stop shopping.

With annexations, new city residents lost responses from volunteer firefighting organizations.  The volunteer organization still exist and continue to provide EMS and fire responses to unincorporated areas of the County.  Some of the volunteer departments were annexed over the years and now must watch city fire trucks drive past them to get to a fire.  If allowed to respond, to city 9-1-1 calls, they could provide a dual response and in many cases arrive more quickly than a city unit coming from a further distance.  With the recent fire at an Aboite apartment complex, the local volunteer department located adjacent to the complex was not allowed to respond.  If the City’s first goal is to get a first responder to your home more quickly, a memorandum of understanding would have been signed years ago to allow for volunteers to respond.  The Three Rivers Ambulance Authority is the City’s EMS provider and should be located in the dispatch center.  The goal must be to get a responder to your home more quickly.

One plan calls for a board to oversee combined communications.  The line from taxpayers to service becomes blurred as does the line from employees to employer.  Accountability and responsibility will be difficult to attribute to any one person if the public is dissatisfied with the communications center.

The Governor supports one point of accountability in the form of one elected County Executive rather than a board of 3 commissioners.  Yet, the commissioners who agree and find the board of commissioners to be inefficient want to set up a large unwieldy board to run communications.  Nonetheless, if a board system is put in place, the Executive Board should consist of the 3 commissioners.  Then, the Operations Board should consist of 6 people.  Three should be appointed by the Mayor and three should be appointed by the Sheriff.  One appointee should be a member of the County fiscal body and one appointee should be a member of the City fiscal body.  The Executive board would have one vote in the event of any tie where the Operations Board votes.

The communication center should have a Director and Assistant Director hired by the Operations Board.  The employees should work for the Operations Board rather than the City or the County.  The City and County Human Resources Departments should review all current jobs analysis questionnaires, pay and benefits.  The employees should recieve a hybrid combination of pay and benefits resulting in no loss of pay or benefits to anyone, but rather a better pay package to assist in obtaining and retaining qualified employees.  The hiring process should be representative from both Departments and the Director and Assistant Director.  All current City and County protocols must be followed.

One elected official stated that combining 9-1-1 centers is the “low hanging fruit” for government efficiency.  Another stated people will die if the County is in charge.  Turf battles and glass walls are buzz words used to spur action regardless of the unintended consequences.

Kenneth Fires, December 29, 2008

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