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Article updated: 8/20/2013 6:05 PM

Des Plaines considers moving fire dispatch services

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Des Plaines is considering switching emergency dispatch services for the city's fire department to the Regional Emergency Dispatch (RED) Center, a consortium providing dispatch services for 14 area fire departments.

"It's the premier dispatch center for fire departments in the state of Illinois," Fire Chief Alan Wax told city aldermen Monday night, making the case for the proposed switch, which he said would save the city money and improve services.

Wax said there are start up costs for Des Plaines to join the center.

"There is no equity buy in ... but there are implementation costs for equipment, software, radio reprogramming, computer reprogramming, FCC license changes -- we may have to change our vehicle numbers," Wax said, adding the estimated cost is $243,000.

Wax anticipates the city will save roughly $133,000 annually on operational costs for its own dispatch center. "The savings would offset the implementation costs in 1.8 years."

Several city aldermen were concerned about call delays and how that would affect response times.

Wax said that the Des Plaines dispatch center would continue to receive all 911 calls, and route calls that pertain to fire or rescue emergencies to the RED Center within three to five seconds.

A Des Plaines dispatch center employee requested the vote be delayed until dispatchers have a chance to respond. The issue was tabled until the next city council meeting on Sept. 3.

Since the dissolution of the North Suburban Emergency Communication Center, which handled emergency police and fire calls for Des Plaines and Park Ridge, and police calls for Niles and Morton Grove, Des Plaines has been handling its own emergency and nonemergency dispatch services for its police and fire departments for a two-year trial period with Park Ridge as a client.

Wax said Park Ridge Fire Department also is seeking to join the RED Center. The Park Ridge City Council reviewed the proposal last week and was favorable to the switch, he added.

Both towns must decide to either stay with the Des Plaines dispatch center or move to another provider for fire dispatch services, Wax said.

The RED Center's state-of-the-art facility in Northbrook provides call-taking, emergency medical pre-arrival instructions, and fire department dispatching services. The agency, formed in 1977 with five area fire departments, today serves as the regional dispatch center for the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 3, of which Des Plaines is a member, Wax said.

"Fire department dispatching is all that RED Center does, and related services to the citizens that request fire department assistance," Wax said. "They received and responded to over 37,000 fire department calls in 2012 and they are the experts."

The agency's 2013-14 budget is $2.8 million for the 14 agencies. Member agencies pay a percentage of the budget based on call volume. Des Plaines would be the largest member with a call volume of 14.6 percent based on 2012 call statistics.

If approved by both city councils, the RED Center board will meet Sept. 16 to discuss the request to join. It would take six to eight months to implement the switch, which is anticipated to happen by summer 2014.

RED Center's members include Highwood, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Wheeling, Wilmette and Winnetka/Kenilworth fire departments, and also the Deerfield-Bannockburn, Lincolnshire-Riverwoods, Long Grove, North Maine and Prospect Heights fire protection districts.

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