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9liner

Are "dispatchers" going the way of the Plectron?

30 posts in this topic

Being that I've been out of touch with society for going on 9 months now, I decided to squirrel it up and peruse radioreference.com. I was scanning Wake County, North Carolina when I heard something odd on the Raleigh Fire Department dispatch channel and had to do a double take. Their alarms are dispatched by a computerized, female, voice. The dispatch provides all pertinent information: Location, nature of alarm, cross streets, Tac/Fireground/Response channel, and map grid. The entire process seems automated.

This begs the following questions:

Am I behind in the times? Is this the norm in a lot of other jurisdictions?

I have been working in Emergency Services, in all capacities, for almost 15 years now, including a stint as a 911 dispatcher. Most telecommunications centers have call takers who are responsible for receipt of the alarm information and data entry. The information is then pushed to a "dispatcher" who assigns the appropriate units and transmits the alarm.

While I understand the need for the human element for the call taking, response, and fireground, elements, does this not essentially eliminate the need for a "dispatcher"?

This could have ramifications on policies, procedures, and more importantly, staffing levels. To me this seems very efficient and standardized. It seems that counties could adopt a system like this, eliminate positions, resulting in a cost-savings over the long-term.

Any thoughts??

x635 likes this

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The computerized dispatch is also being used in Branford, CT also. This is not going to replace the dispatchers' job; this is just a newer pre-voice alarm that as soon as the call is entered into a CAD, the type of call and the units responding are announced. then the dispatcher gives all the vital information, location, ect. This conforms with the "Class A" type of dispatching. The whole idea of this new is to improve and shorten the dispatch time.

This is similar to the voice alarms FDNY uses in their stations (aka "ENGINE", "LADDER", "SPECIAL UNIT"). It is just sent out with tones and the announcement (or per-announcement before the actual dispatch) over the department radio / dispatch channel.

BFD1054, firedude and sfrd18 like this

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Charlotte Fire Department (NC) has used "Samantha" to dispatch for about a year. It does take a little while to get used to hearing her. They do give her a day off every once in a while to allow the dispatchers to train if the system goes down. She is also turned off during storms, because she has a hard time keeping up when the calls back up. Overall they system works good.

dwcfireman and JetPhoto like this

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I hope not. I have 18 years to go to retire with 30 years "in the chair".

JetPhoto likes this

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The FDNY voice dispatch is the secondary system which is used when the Computer Aided Dispatch system is down. The primary system is by computer which is accompanied by a two tone commonly refered to as the be-boop followed by .wav files for engine, ladder ect. The firefighter on house watch duty is responsible for acknowledging the alarm on the computer and reading it off over the PA.

Computer voice dispatch is quite common and in use in some very large departments including Indianapolis and Houston.

sfrd18 and x4093k like this

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Why is anyone advocating in favor of laying people off? Shouln't emergency services be sticking together not turning against each other?

x129K, AFS1970 and JetPhoto like this

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wow can you imagine the possibilities of out sourcing dispatch centers... lol

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They have been testing out the Samantha type voice in a firehouse near my office. Rescue Me is just that, TV. There are a number of departments who have that computerized voice reading the tickets in the firehouse, such as LA City and Chicago. Not too sure if it has filtered over to the radio. I am all for new technology, but, let's keep the human factor involved.

sfrd18 and grumpyff like this

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If you tune into the National Weather Service stations on VHF high band, they have been having a computer "read" the weather for years.

Having been associated with the aviation world for about 15 years now, I happen to be familiar with the NWS weather lines. I'm also familiar with the FAA certified automated lines and radio frequencies for air traffic control and ATIS (Automated Terminal Information Service). The ATIS is updated by an airport's operations department and theATC tower simultaneously. The NWS weather, at least for airport reporting, is also fed from an airport operations office, yet some of the information is updated automatically from the weather instrumentation. The point I'm getting to here is that these automated services fall back on one thing; the human element. Without someone to augment the information correctly, the system fails.

Where am I going with this? Some people feel that automated dispatching systems will eliminate the human element for part or all of a dispatching center, thus reducing staffing levels and saving money. Others believe that the systems won't work and will cause more havoc on the scene (this is a little extreme, but there are people who just don't like computers). My opinion falls somewhere in between...I do believe the automated systems can relieve dispatchers of time-wasting dispatches, yet I know far too well of the consequences when computers fail at critical moments (like when my weather reporting monitor at the airport decides to take a "break" while trying to publish a weather report during a Nor'easter). The bottom line really comes to the jurisdiction and how they plan to use an automated dispatch system. It may work exceptionally well for a dispatch center that has the funding and technology to pull it off with a staff that is willing to make it work, and it may go horribly wrong for a small dispatching office with little funding and small staff.

Charlotte Fire Department (NC) has used "Samantha" to dispatch for about a year. It does take a little while to get used to hearing her. They do give her a day off every once in a while to allow the dispatchers to train if the system goes down. She is also turned off during storms, because she has a hard time keeping up when the calls back up. Overall they system works good.

Obviously, Charlotte has used the system enough to know that it can and will fail, and redundancies have been emplaced to account for the times that "Samantha" decides to take a break.

Personally, if this IS going to be the way of the future, let's give it a try. BUT, let's not get our hopes too high that this is going to be the future of 911 dispatch.

firedude likes this

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Why is anyone advocating in favor of laying people off? Shouln't emergency services be sticking together not turning against each other?

I AGREE there guy. Many people today seem to be in favor of new technology, but do they realize that they could be cutting off the hand that feeds them. Then they wonder why they are getting laid off and not replaced.

I would never think that they could somehow do away with 911 dispatchers. But here's a case where it could happen.

On another thread, I believe there was talk of using an SUV rather than a fire truck to respond to calls. I can't believe how many people are actually in favor of that. The firetruck is staffed with four firefighters. Replace it with a SUV and there will be two firefighters, and one less Engine.

I'm just happy that I am retired and no longer looking for a firefighter or dispatchers job. Because its seems they are getting less and less, and some of the people looking for these jobs are actually looking to cut them. I just domn't understand.

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I don't think that a computer will EVER be able to take the place of a knowledgeable dispatcher with a cool head on their shoulders and some good old fashioned common sense. Will they try it anyway? Probably. But in my not-so-humble-opinion there are just some things that I don't think a computer can be able to relay.

Examples:

-Tone of voice can tell you a LOT about the type of call you might be responding to. Do I want the dispatcher screaming on the radio as if the sky is falling? Absolutely not, but if you know your dispatchers you can pick up slight hints in their tone of voice.

-Particularly in smaller departments with (relatively) quieter PSAPs, when you hear the 911 line ringing in the background... I'm not a Detective but I think they call that a clue...

-Situational Awareness (particularly in busier cities) I've had a dispatcher call me on the radio as we're pulling out of the station to inform me that the cops have something going on in an area I'm responding to. Does it have to do with my call? Not necessarily, but knowing I should be keeping an eye out for Black and Whites flying through the neighborhood is always useful. Yes, I know drive with due regard and all that, but it DOES help to have a heads up.

I'm not sure if technology is to the point where a computerized dispatch system can analyze that stuff in real time to warn me about it.

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We will never stick together in the Emergency Services as long as we are competing for limited tax dollars. It doesn't matter if it is Dispatchers vs the Field units or Police Vs Fire or whatever. That is the sad reality. One thing that this computerized system will not beable to do is effectively prioritize calls that come in a split second apart. It is easy to send the first due engine on the first call in their district, but when you are first reading that call and another higher one comes in that is a higher priority, somepeople would say that the few seconds it takes for a human to read that call might have been a good thing.

However with the Next Generation 9-1-1 coming where people can text their calls to the PSAP, and with the existing use of touch tones keys for various menus, some moron will probably invent a system that does not require human call takers, which will be blended with the computer dispatching and the bosses will pat themselves on the back for increasing efficiency and reducing labor costs. The guys in the field will wave goodbye to us as we turn out the lights in the dispatch center and then will be shocked when the first Robot Firefighter is put into service.

Doesn't anyone remember RoboCop? Do you want Omni Consumer Products running your department?

Edited by AFS1970
x129K and SageVigiles like this

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Let me start by saying that I was not advocating layoffs. I was merely pointing out that this could be used by a particular agency to justify either laying off or not filling positions through attrition.

Frankly, I am quite torn in this respect and I think this is where a true dichotomy exists within emergency services. A lot of us scream for less government intervention, less government spending, as long as it isn't at the expense of our jobs or our salaries. Now I personally believe that there are three elements of government which should be funded unequivocally. Schools, public safety, and public infrastructure. All other programs should be icing on the cake if there is money. That being said, with the fiscal climate which exists today, we cannot rely on the taxpayers for an endless source of funds any longer.

Automation is going to happen whether we like it or not. Automation can, in most instances, eliminate the "human error" element. Now, I'm not saying computers are perfect all the time (they are programmed by humans of course) but I will speculate that the instances of human error vs. computer pale in comparison. Hell, our new Blackhawk helicopters can practically take off and land themselves. The pilots have been relegated to "systems managers". There are helicopters over here flying heavy lift missions, ferrying supplies, without any pilots at all. My point is, automation is something we can embrace and work with, or we can fight it kicking and screaming. I can guarantee you who is going to win that battle and, it usually doesn't end up on the side of the public servant. There have been plenty of instances where labor has refused to back down or negotiate and it usually doesn't end up well for the employees. That being said, sometimes we must embrace change for the greater good.

I feel your pain, trust me. In my civilian life, I work and reside in the richest state in the country based on median household income. We claim 3 of the top 5 richest counties in the country. I have been on the job for almost 7 years now and I make less then what a Trooper in NY makes the day he crosses the stage. It is a right to work state and we do not have the holy grail of binding arbitration. Would I love to make more? Absolutely! But, I LOVE my job and sometimes we sacrifice in order to do what we love.

I know it is hard to swallow but sometimes we need to take a step back and be thankful for what we have. I went for 3 years without a raise or a step. I am a step 4 when I should be a step 7. As a matter of fact, we spent the last 4 years with a 2% salary reduction. However, were able to avoid layoffs and were even able to put through at least 5 academy classes since '08.

So, you can say we eat our own. And, maybe sometimes we do. That being said, It's not always about the singular person or the singular agency. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that we all work for a greater good. We need to remember why we do this job in the first place because there is not a day I don't love going to work. And frankly, they probably could have cut my salary 10% and I would still be doing what I love to do.

Stay Safe out there fellas. :rolleyes:

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You have reached 911, press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish, 3 for JUST CONNECT ME ALEADY!!!!

After reading this topic last night I tuned into Wake County and caught a structure fire, it was interesting something that would take time to get used to but it does take away any sense of urgency to a call with no emotion given during the dispatch.

Edited by JetPhoto
AFS1970 and EdAngiolillo like this

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At Charlotte Fire Department, Samantha is only used to dispatch to the stations. Human dispatchers then send out the incident over the radio with all the details from the call-taker. I agree with others, you can't replace human interaction with the 911 caller.

JetPhoto and x129K like this

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The other night at work I had to call a neighboring town's police department, I got a menu of choices, the truly frightening thing was reporting an incident was choice number 5.

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It's going to take a long,long time, mainly for people to "trust" the technology.....but I'm convinced that technology will replace 99% of the Dispatchers job, and maybe quite a bit of the Calltakers as well.

And if it cuts personel costs, politicans are going to be all about it.

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Technology can probably already replace at least some of a dispatcher's job in that the computer already "knows" what box area a call is in, so theoretically some one can develop a program that sends it directly to that station or units computers as soon as the call is entered. Someone can probably also develop a program that automatically does mutual aid and relocations if one station is already out and they get a second call. The issue comes in with units requesting information and on the call taking side, whether you want to sit through a menu.

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Bravo, X129.... The sentiments that you have written are a testament to the pride that you take in your job... I know that the men in the field, be they pd, fd, or ems, respect the job that a knowledgeable, forward thinking dispatcher does.. They know who you are, by your voice or by your number, and they take a certain comfort knowing that you are there ready to get them whatever they need.... Me personally... I don't ever think that can be replaced by a computer....

x129K and SageVigiles like this

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Why is anyone advocating in favor of laying people off? Shouln't emergency services be sticking together not turning against each other?

Sometimes when technology evolves, there will inevitably be change that is unwelcomed, however there is an old saying: "while jobs become obsolete, people don't, they can be trained to do other jobs" No need to lay off people; just retrain them for other positions. A good strong union contract will provide the necessary job security in these types of circumstances.

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Does "samantha" give the age of the patient........or is that to much to ask, or is it to many numbers.

x129K, Danger and JetPhoto like this

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I've never heard an automated system giving the age of the patient, mostly the automated ones I have heard were "pre alerts" that just said something like Ambulance 1, Engine 1 respond to XXX Main Street

That being said, I don't know of a technical reason why they couldn't give the age of the patient

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Recently, Dutchess County has switched over from dipatching EMS calls from, "21 year old male patient....", to, "adult patient"...they no longer state the patient age or sex, and many in the FD/EMS community disagree with it.

I am not sure why it came about, but perhaps something to do with HIIPA? I prefer to know the patient age and sex personally, but it really doesnt "bother" me...they still send appropriate resources in a professional manner.

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If they claim it has to do with HIPAA, they are mistaken. HIPAA has very limited applicability in the dispatch enviornment to begin with, especially when dispatch is by an agency that doesn't bill health insurance, and an age isn't considered identifying information that would be covered anyway.

I think it has more to do with the fact that the person's age range is more important than there exact age. Yes it is important to know if you are deailing with an infant, pediatric, young adult, older adult(due to EMD having cut offs at age 35 for a lot of things) or geriatric patient, but does it really matter that it is a 66 year old with chest pains as opposed to a 65 or 67 year old?

JetPhoto and helicopper like this

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Please do not quote me on that HIIPA idea - thats just MY thoughts...I cant really think of any other idea why to do it. From what i was told, "adult" encompasses age 12 and up.

Again - just what I am hearing from some of the angrier guys out there...it does not effect me either way and I have the utmost respect for the dispatchers up there, many of whom I consider friends.

Sadly, they have been getting beat up pretty good lately on social media, and quite unjustly.

JetPhoto likes this

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I just added adolescent because it might tell you more about how to deal with the patient. Although the geriatric category is a good idea

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Samantha @ Charlotte FD provides the street address, rigs responding, tactical channel, and a one or two word nature of the call- person shot, trauma, structure fire, fire alarm, etc. The rest of the information is delivered by dispatchers over the radio. If the information is sensitive,it's sent to the rigs computer.

x129K likes this

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