While Franklin County is working to fix and upgrade its 911 dispatching system, some area firefighters are wondering what happened to some of the old features.
Boles Fire Chief Jim Casey said he has heard complaints from fire personnel from several area departments.
Those firefighters have questioned why the county’s public safety answering point, or dispatching center, located at the sheriff’s department in Union, no longer has the capability of sending pager messages.
Casey said his district is one of the districts dispatched by the county that utilized those pagers and said the system hasn’t been working for more than a year.
“A lot of firefighters across the county carry alpha pagers and voice pagers which allow us to have a second means of communication,” Casey said.
The pagers can tell firefighters the type of call they are responding to and the location, he said.
That helps volunteers who are coming from different locations, Casey said.
“It helped out because the voice pagers may set off a tone, but if you’re not in a good location to hear, you might not get all of it. For volunteers especially, the alpha pagers gave them a good idea of if they needed to respond or not,” he said.
Casey noted the pagers also cut down on the amount of calls to dispatchers from responders.
“It is helpful for us to be able to verify things and cut down on the amount of communications back to dispatch,” he said. “It makes a big difference in our responses.”
Vince Zagarri, the county’s interim 911 director, said fixing the alphanumeric paging system was not a priority for the county and the vendor of its 911 software, CenturyLink.
Zagarri told Casey and others on the county’s emergency management communications board earlier this month that fixing the paging would have to wait until after the computer software system is fixed.
That system hasn’t been fully operable since the county purchased it about two years ago.
Mike Kelley, St. Clair Fire assistant chief, said his crews receive information by text message.
The same information — including the type of incident, location and cross streets — is available as a printout at fire stations.
“Once they hit the tones and the message goes out, the captains or whomever can take out their phone, look at it and see where to go,” Kelley said. “It is helpful. You don’t have to keep calling back and getting numbers and addresses.”
Kelley said his department is dispatched by Central County Fire Alarm, not Franklin County.
He said that the dispatching center handles only fire and EMS agencies, not law enforcement.
Franklin County’s dispatching center, located at the county sheriff’s office in Union, handles dispatching for the sheriff’s department as well as numerous fire and EMS agencies throughout the county.
Some entities, however, like the St. Clair Fire Department and emergency service providers in Washington, Sullivan and Pacific, either operate their own dispatching centers or have contracted services out, at a cost, to other dispatching centers.
The county provides dispatching services for free to those entities it serves.
Officials have talked about the need for an additional funding source, including the possibility of charging for dispatching.
Currently the county funds 911 operations with a landline telephone tax, which is maxed out by law at 15 percent.
Revenues from that tax have been on a constant decline as the number of landline users declines.
Cellphones are not taxed for 911 in Missouri, making it the only state in the country without such a tax.
County officials, including Sheriff Gary Toelke, are working on developing a strategic plan for countywide 911.
With such a plan in place, county commissioners hope to pursue a 911 sales tax perhaps as soon as next year.