Regional Emergency Dispatch Center Ready for Fire Season
Emergency response crews have been on the scene of two destructive fires that broke out in the same Sun Valley neighborhood Sunday and Monday. Firefighters, REMSA, and Washoe County Sheriff's deputies were on the scene within minutes. Getting all those emergency response crews coordinated is the job of the Regional Emergency Dispatch Center located north of Reno.
When the 9-1-1 calls start coming in time is of the essence for dispatchers. Dispatchers are trained to take the heat -- so to speak, and we wanted to know how they're preparing for what could be a tough fire season. They had their hands full Monday as they mobilized 69 firefighters from four agencies to put out the raging fire in Sun Valley. Heavy winds spread the flames quickly to homes and outbuildings.
Daniel Johnson is the manager of communications and technology at the Regional Emergency Dispatch Center. He says when fires break out dispatchers have to handle the increase in 911 calls that come from people spotting the smoke.
"Many of the citizens calling in to report the fire-- even if we're already on it-- we still continue to receive incoming 911 calls to report it. So there's that challenge of being able to continue to answer the calls because interspersed with that could be other 911 calls," said Johnson.
Johnson says experience and continuous training helps keep the dispatchers ready for emergencies, big or small.
"The people that we have here, you put them in an emergency situation and they shine, and so the stress level does increase but through the training they've had and the experience they had they really just buckle down and get the job done," he said.
Monday, dispatchers had to deal with at least four different agencies. Because the fire started in a neighborhood, police, fire and medical vehicles had to get to the scene within minutes. According to Johnson, dispatchers have to train on each type of call.
"Call taker, fire dispatch, police dispatch, secondary dispatch. So once they go through the training for dispatch, they're prepared to handle any of those fire type calls," Johnson added.
They don't leave anything to chance; even analyzing past calls to determine how many staff are needed.
"We can break it down by hour of the day, and see when the most calls are," said Johnson. "During the fire season most calls are coming between two and ten, so we'll staff accordingly based off that time frame."
Asked how the dispatchers handle the stress, Johnson tells us they take it in stride.
"They're trained to handle those calls and so they handle them and it's usually after the fact that they say "whew" and that's the time to relax and take a breather."
Johnson says in the case of a large fire the dispatch center takes the calls until they can be turned over to the agency that takes control at the scene. That lets the regional dispatchers return to their job of taking the normal load of 911 calls.