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October 1, 2013

Detroit 911 helps suburb city save response time

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — A quest to improve Highland Park Fire Department’s response times led to the discovery that Detroit 911 was collecting about $80,000 in fees to dispatch for the department but transferring the calls to be dispatched elsewhere, adding to fire response times.

But starting earlier this month, Detroit 911 dispatchers began handling Highland Park Fire Department calls from when they are made to when fire trucks clear a scene.

“We’re taking two or three minutes out of the response time now,” Highland Park Fire Chief Derek Hillman said.

The change comes under a new understanding between the two municipalities.

“It’s the right thing to do; it was a no-brainer, in my opinion,” Detroit Fire Department Commissioner Donald Austin said.

Hillman said six months ago he was looking into ways to shave seconds off response time to about 1,000 annual calls for fires, car accidents, hazardous materials incidents, emergency medical service runs and calls to back up Highland Park police. It was part of the makeover of the city’s fire department, which includes a new, $2.7-million fire station off Woodward Avenue.

Detroit 911 operators have been answering 911 calls in Highland Park for about 30 years.

EMS calls are passed on to dispatchers at Redford Township-based Rapid Response EMS, the company Highland Park pays to provide EMS services. Detroit dispatchers handle Highland Park police calls until scenes are cleared.

But Detroit 911 was passing fire calls on to either a Highland Park Fire Department dispatcher or, for more than a year, to Rapid Response, which did the work for free, Hillman said. That’s despite the City of Detroit collecting about $80,000 in 911 phone surcharge revenues designated to handle Highland Park fire calls, he added.

“For some reason ... Detroit was collecting all the 911 surcharge money,” he said. “I went to them and said, ‘Look, you guys need to start giving us service for it.’ Commissioner Austin, their legal department, were great. The commissioner really helped out in making sure we got this all set.”

Hillman said the move frees up a firefighter who would otherwise be used for dispatching once a call was passed on from Detroit 911.

“Instead of having a guy staying back on the radio, it provides another guy to go out on a fire with us,” he said.

Austin said Detroit dispatchers will be able to handle the responsibilities.

“What I saw was a problem and way to improve their response time that would not add any significant workload to the fire department,” Austin said.

Detroit International Fire Fighters Association Local 344 President Dan McNamara, whose union represents Detroit dispatchers, said he is going to look into the change.

“This is the first I knew of it,” he said Friday.

Jason Hosmer, marketing director for Rapid Response, said Friday he was surprised Detroit was collecting revenue for what his company was providing for free.

“It’s always nice to get additional revenue, but we certainly did not seek that option out,” Hosmer said. “We just wanted to help the city because of our existing relationship.”

Copyright 2013 Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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