Source: Sherman Publications

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Neighboring chiefs sing county’s praises

by CJ Carnacchio

January 29, 2014

Four satisfied customers.

That's what the Oakland County Sheriff's dispatch center has in the fire chiefs from Addison, Brandon, Oakland and Independence townships.

"I'm very pleased with what we pay for and what we get through county," said Addison Fire Chief Jerry Morawski.

"I've been real happy with it," said Brandon Fire Chief David Kwapis.

"I have no complaints with the sheriff's department," said Oakland Twp. Fire Chief Paul Strelchuk. "I think they do a very good job. I'm happy we're with them."

"We've been with the county for probably close to 10 years and it's been nothing but positive for us," said Independence Fire Chief Steve Ronk. "They do a great job."

The county dispatches all the fire and emergency medical calls for these townships surrounding Oxford. The Pontiac-based center currently dispatches for a total of 15 fire departments.

Soon, Oxford will be added to the list as the township prepares to end its long relationship with the village and contract with the county for dispatch services. The village center will remain open, however, it will only dispatch Oxford and Lake Orion police calls.

Oxford's village council approved a termination agreement at its Jan. 20 meeting. The township board must now approve it as it moves forward with its Jan. 8 motion to "begin the transition" to county dispatch.

"I'm definitely a supporter of Oakland County Sheriff dispatch and I think Oxford will be very happy with the service that they'll provide them," Kwapis said.

Judging by what the surrounding fire chiefs had to say, the county is serving their departments and their communities well.

Morawski said what's nice about the county center is it's staffed by a large number of "well-trained people" and "the cost is low" to the communities they serve.

"We don't have to have all that overhead of a whole crew here dispatching," he said.

Ten years ago, Independence Fire was doing its own dispatching. Switching to county "freed up personnel" to put on the street, Ronk said.

"That was the big thing for us," Ronk continued. "The other thing was just having professional dispatchers doing the job. Dispatching has changed tremendously and the requirements (for) a dispatch center are greatly (different) from what they used to be and they're changing all the time.

"Keeping up with those changes is a very costly endeavor and we don't have to worry about that. (County personnel) keep up with that end of it and we get the end product."

"We really don't think anybody else has got the capabilities that the county has for dispatching," Ronk noted. "They've really upped their game in the last 10 years. I don't think there's anybody else we'd even entertain going to. They do a nice job."

Kwapis said county does a "really good job" of obtaining information from callers and "prioritizing" the calls for his department.

This way, fire personnel know which calls are life-threatening emergencies that require lights and sirens while heading to the scene, and which calls don't need this response level.

Anytime a fire vehicle must race to a scene with lights and sirens running, there's a possibility of it being involved in a crash that could result in injuries, deaths, lawsuits and insurance claims. "(Prioritizing calls) reduces that potential liability," Kwapis said.

To Strelchuk, because so many local fire departments provide mutual aid to each other on a regular basis, it's an advantage to have them all dispatched by the county.

"By having it all under one roof, that makes it a lot easier to coordinate things, especially when we get into these more severe calls," he said. "The dispatchers know exactly what's going on. They don't have to pick up a phone and call the other dispatch center."

The chiefs all agree that whenever an issue arises or a mistake is made in the county dispatch center, it's immediately addressed.

"We've had a few hiccups or bumps here and there, but they've been very proactive in making sure those issues do not present again," Kwapis said. "They're usually dealt with very swiftly."

"Anytime we've identified something that didn't go well, they've always taken care of (it), whether it's a personnel issue or a policy issue," Ronk said. "They've been very responsive."

"Any situations that we encounter, they do their very best to get it resolved in the best manner," Strelchuk said.

Prior to contracting with county in 2010, Oakland Township's fire department received dispatch services from Rochester Hills.

"Like anything else, when you do something new, there's going to be stumbling blocks and there was (in our case)," Strelchuk said. "But (county's) come a long way . . . (Now) everything's pretty much worked out and they do a really good job."

"We've had several major (emergency) incidents while (county was) dispatching and they've accomplished everything that we've asked of them," Strelchuk continued. "As a matter of fact, we just had one the other day. We had to bring in Superior Medflight (to transport a patient). There was a lot going on and (county dispatch) did a really good job of handling all the radio traffic. I have no complaints."

Morawski likes the fact that county has an annual meeting with all the fire chiefs they serve to address issues, concerns and policies.

"They're always willing to work with you if you have some issues that you want to address," he said. "If you have any policies that are unique to your department, they're willing to work on it and change things for you."

Ronk agreed. "They've been wide open to issues that we've presented to them and made changes," he said. "I can't for any more."