January 15, 2014 - By the time this newspaper hits stands, Oxford Township could be preparing to make the switch to the Oakland County Sheriff's Department as the provider of dispatch services for its fire and emergency medical calls.
Last week, the township board voted 6-0 to reiterate its request that the Oxford Village Police Department, which currently handles those calls, provide two dispatchers per shift 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If the village cannot comply, the motion calls for the township to begin the "transition" to county dispatch.
"If they can give me two dispatchers 24-7, I have no problem," said township Treasurer Joe Ferrari, who made the motion.
Ferrari said if the village's answer is no, he can "respect" that because he understands the municipality has "budget concerns," but the township board has to do what it believes is best for the safety of its residents.
This is the second time the township board has approved a motion calling for two dispatchers. The first was in early December.
Village Manager Joe Young explained to township officials that the village council has not issued a response to this specific request. He asked that it be given the opportunity to do so at its Tuesday, Jan. 14 meeting.
"We did not say no," he said.
Young believes the township and village need to continue their dialogue on the dispatch issue because "this is somewhat of a negotiation."
Township Supervisor Bill Dunn disagreed.
"We said 24-7," he said. "There is no negotiation. Either you do it or you don't."
Although National Fire Protection Association standards call for the presence of two on-duty dispatchers at all times, neither state law nor the Oakland County Medical Control Authority requires this staffing level.
Young reiterated the village's offer for the two municipalities to spend six months analyzing dispatch operations together to determine if there are any issues with the service being delivered to the township. "We suggest monthly meetings to discuss issues, protocol and equipment," he said.
That was one of two options the village offered the township last month.
The other was the village's willingness to allow the township to terminate the dispatch agreement early and switch to another agency without any legal battle.
The township presently contracts with the village to handle all fire and emergency medical calls in Oxford. For this, the township will pay the village $37,153 this year and $38,268 next year. The contract expires Dec. 31, 2015.
If the township were to switch to county dispatch, it would pay $45,242 this year. That's based on the county's dispatch rate of $25.46 per call, which takes effect April 1, multiplied by 1,777, which is the three-year average of fire runs in Oxford from 2011-13, a total of 5,332 calls.
Township officials want two dispatchers because they're concerned that having one on duty is not enough to adequately cover the township and village, plus Lake Orion.
At 8 a.m. Jan. 6, Oxford Village's dispatch center began receiving all of Lake Orion's 9-1-1 calls and dispatching its police calls. For this service, Lake Orion is paying Oxford Village $20,000 this year with 2 percent increases to come in 2015 and 2016. Lake Orion has closed its dispatch center.
Young informed township officials that the addition of Lake Orion "is proceeding in a proficient manner" with no significant impact on "call response and dispatcher workload."
"We will continue to monitor the dispatch center daily," he said.
Young also informed township officials that during this transition period, the Oxford dispatcher center is currently being staffed with two dispatchers from 8 a.m. to midnight (16 hours). He explained that a Lake Orion dispatcher has been working alongside the Oxford dispatcher from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to midnight.
"As this point, we're doing what we can. We do have two dispatchers during peak times," Young said.
The manager indicated the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift "is being monitored as to the need for a second dispatcher during this transition." Young noted that during the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift on Jan. 6 and 7, only one call was received from Lake Orion over the two-night period. He wondered if that warrants having two dispatchers during that shift.
Thanks to a $65,000 state grant the village received for dispatch consolidation, Young told township officials the village will be able to have two dispatchers on duty for two shifts (16 hours) a day until the estimated date of April 12.
That's because $20,000 of that grant money is being utilized to train former Lake Orion dispatchers that Oxford hired as part-time personnel. They'll be training in the Oxford center while working with Oxford dispatchers. Young said the village has already hired two former Lake Orion dispatchers and is looking to employ a third.
"We will continue to provide two dispatchers as situations and needs warrant thereafter as well (as) if additional funding is provided by the village, township or other sources," the manager said.
Young reminded township officials that the village is in the process building a force of trained volunteers to help staff its dispatch center via its recently-established 9-1-1 Dispatch Reserve Program.
But township officials indicated they want two dispatchers on duty 24 hours a day, not 16, and they want this staffing level on a permanent basis, not a temporary one.
"I want (two dispatchers) 24-7 from now on, not for six months, not for nine months," Dunn said. "I just think it's important for the health, safety and welfare of community."
Dunn believes that between the increase in M-24 traffic, the increase in township population and now, the addition of calls from Lake Orion, "we're just an accident waiting to happen" with one dispatcher on duty.
"By the grace of God, we've had nothing go wrong," he said.
Dunn said his main concern is having an incident where a citizen or a firefighter loses their life because there's only one dispatcher on duty. He reiterated this issue has nothing to do with the village center's performance.
"I have nothing but admiration and respect for the village department," the supervisor said. "Through the years, they've been very, very professional."
Young explained to township officials that whenever the village dispatch center knows ahead of time that it's going to need more personnel to handle a situation, such as the recent winter storms, a second dispatcher is called in to work.
Dunn noted that doesn't help if at any given moment, a single dispatcher could find him or herself simultaneously trying to handle a structure fire, a car crash and a medical call.
"We have very efficient, multi-tasking, experienced people," Young replied.
But Dunn pointed out that won't help if the fire chief or an incident commander all of a sudden determines a structure fire or other emergency situation requires a dedicated dispatcher who from that point on is not allowed to handle any other calls.
In a case such as that, Young said a second dispatcher could be called in to work.
"Call someone in? That's ridiculous," Dunn replied.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.