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Village, county dispatches vie for twp. contract



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June 23, 2010 - Call the men in white coats and grab a straightjacket because "Crazy" Joe Young's dealing.

Never have local dispatch prices been this low, low, low as the Oxford Village manager slashed fees in an effort keep the township from switching to the competition.

"We, if there was any doubt, want to have you keep emergency 9-1-1 calls and their dispatch here," Young said.

During last week's Oxford Township Board meeting, Young indicated the village police would be willing to continue providing fire/EMS dispatch services next year for $34,000 with a 3 percent increase each year after that.

That's a whopping 43.5 percent reduction over the $60,181 the village is currently charging the township.

"We're absorbing those costs because we want to keep 9-1-1 in this village and in this township," Young told the board. "We're willing to take that on."

Based on the village's projections and current dispatch pricing schedule, the reduced price would save the township a total of $148,582 over the next five years.

But the village faces some stiff competition from the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, which indicated it can provide dispatch services for $30,199 in the first year (April 2010 to March 2011) and $31,109 in the second year (April 2011 to March 2012).

According to Mel Maier, the sheriff's chief of communications, these yearly totals are based on a three-year average of Oxford's fire/EMS calls, which was then multiplied by a per-run rate set by the county Board of Commissioners.

The rate for this year is $23.23 per run while next year's rate is $23.90 per run.

"There are no extra fees (from the county)," Maier said.

However, the county rates don't include the charge from AT&T for a phone line between the county and village dispatch centers, which could cost the township anywhere from $76 to $106 per month, according to Maier.

Township officials listened to both the village and county's dispatch presentations, but agreed they won't make a decision until their July 14 meeting.

During his presentation, Young stressed the importance of having a local dispatch center staffed by local people with local knowledge and a combined 123 years of experience.

Two of the three full-time dispatchers live in Oxford while the other was raised here and graduated from OHS. Two of the six part-time dispatchers live in Oxford while two other part-timers live in Addison and Orion townships.

"We have a knowledge base that is unmatchable obviously because we're here. We live it everyday," Young said.

This knowledge comes in handy when dealing with two different streets that have the same name or identifying local landmarks.

Village Police Chief Mike Neymanowski said it's that "personal touch" that separates his dispatch center from the county's. Because they work in the community and are a part of it, his dispatchers are willing to "go out of their way" to serve residents.

The chief relayed an incident in which a lady called because her husband regularly slips out of bed and needs assistance getting back in. The dispatcher stayed on the line with her, talking to her and reassuring her until help got there.

"That goes on on a regular basis up at my dispatch center," Neymanowski said.

Young indicated the village dispatch center's average response time (from the time a call is answered until the time it's dispatched) was 1 minute, 17 seconds during the first three months of 2010.

The fact that the village dispatch center has only one person working per shift is a positive in Young's opinion because that person answers the call, takes the information and dispatches emergency personnel to the scene without any delays.

"I want you to be aware of the value of having a local dispatch with one person manning it," he told the told.

If a life-threatening medical situation, such as a heart attack, arises and Emergency Medical Dispatch (a series of questions and medical instructions given prior to paramedics' arrival) is needed, the village transfers the call to Star EMS, which provides the service via contract. For non-life-threatening incidents, village dispatchers provide EMD services when necessary.

Young noted that if the township chooses to contract with county dispatch, all of Oxford's 9-1-1 calls would automatically go to Pontiac instead of the village dispatch center on W. Burdick St. This has the potential to create delays in his opinion.

"It's very paramount to us to keep that 9-1-1 service here," he said.

Young urged the township board to look at everything, not just dollars and cents.

"You could say money is Number One right now, but you need to factor in the quality and local service and knowledge, in this case, that you have going for you," he said.

Neymanowski asked township officials to put aside the "political battles" they've had with the village over the years and "make the right choice."

Staffed by 47 full-time employees (with two more to be hired this summer), the county dispatch center serves 21 communities and entities. It does fire/EMS dispatch for 10 fire departments and just signed contracts with Rochester Hills and Oakland Township.

"We don't deal with people walking in our lobby. We don't deal with people coming in, telling us we need to do different things," Maier said. "We do one thing for you – that's dispatch service."

Last year, the county center received 113,631 9-1-1 calls and 200,376 10-digit calls.

According to Maier, since March 1, the average time for answering these calls is 6 seconds. Over 90 percent of the calls are answered in under 10 seconds.

"That's an incredible amount of calls, but we have the staff that can take that," he said.

Maier stressed that despite the county's high call volume, service does not suffer.

The average response time for the 10 fire departments the county currently serves is 1 minute, 12 seconds between the time the call is initiated and the time it's dispatched.

All calls that come into the county dispatch center go through an Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) computer system that prioritizes the calls.

Top priority is given to 9-1-1 calls, while 10-digit emergency calls get the second highest priority.

"We don't put people on hold," Maier said. "9-1-1 calls are never put on hold."

Because the ACD system prioritizes the order in which calls are answered, when a 9-1-1 call comes in, dispatch personnel have no choice but to answer them above all other calls.

"You can't choose not to pick up (a) 9-1-1 (call)," Maier said.

When a 10-digit emergency call comes in, the ACD system automatically overrides non-priority calls.

Maier wished to make it clear there are no delays in the county dispatch process. When a call comes in, it's answered by a call-taker, who types the information into a computer and immediately sends it to fire and police dispatchers.

"There is no delay and there is no extra work," he said. "It's done with the push of a button. There is no delay in computer time."

Thanks to "geographic orientation" training, which is done every Wednesday, county dispatchers are not strangers to the communities they serve. During these sessions, they ride along with deputies throughout the various communities.

"We know your township," Maier said. "We ride in your township. My dispatchers ride in your township."

He noted the county's dispatch staff currently includes persons with up to 30 years experience. The average time on the job is 10.6 years. Every single county dispatcher is certified in and provides both Emergency Medical and Emergency Fire Dispatch.

Last year, Maier said his center performed 4,496 EMD runs and 801 EFD runs.

"We're the only agency in Michigan that can do that, the only one," he said.

Maier stressed that the reason county dispatch can provide EMD services in-house, as opposed to through a third-party, is because it doesn't just have one person working per shift.

"A single person cannot do Emergency Medical Dispatch. It's impossible," he said. "A single person cannot take the call, do all the dispatching, stay on the line, deal with LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network), all those other things."

Oxford dispatcher Debbie Ofarrell disagreed. "You're totally wrong when you say one person can't do (EMD) because we in Oxford do do it and I can provide tapes to prove it."

Maier noted he would like to see all of Oxford's 9-1-1 calls go to Pontiac in order to eliminate the duplication of efforts and make things more efficient.

According to him, 72 percent of 9-1-1 calls are from cellular phones. A majority of 9-1-1 cell calls in Oxford already go to county dispatch, however, some do go to village dispatch along with all of the 9-1-1 calls from land-line phones.

Right now, all 9-1-1 land-line calls for police service in the township go to the village dispatch center, which must then transfer them to the county with the press of a button.

"I'd like to eliminate that delay and instead bridge those two services to offer you fire and police response with one phone call," Maier said. "I'd like to see that change and I'd like to see the calls come to Oakland County. The majority of calls (about 80 percent) are law enforcement calls. The land-lines should be coming to the county right now."

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.
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