Des Plaines approves switching fire dispatch services

Des Plaines will be switching its 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.

The city council recently voted 7-1 to approve the change in provider. The Park Ridge City Council similarly approved moving its fire dispatch services to the RED Center, as both towns were required to switch services together or not at all.

Des Plaines has been handling its own dispatch services for its police and fire departments since the dissolution earlier this year of the North Suburban Emergency Communication Center, which handled police and fire calls for Des Plaines and Park Ridge, and police calls for Niles and Morton Grove. Des Plaines decided to run the center, which was located on the second floor of city hall, itself for a two-year trial period with Park Ridge as a client.

Fire Chief Alan Wax said during the recent city council meeting that the main reasons to switch to the RED Center for services are an increase in service levels, improved ability for regionalized responses, and cost effectiveness.

Wax said the city would save roughly $133,000 annually on operational costs for its own dispatch center, which would help make up for the startup costs for Des Plaines joining the RED Center — estimated at $243,000 for equipment, software, radio reprogramming, computer reprogramming and FCC license changes — in 1.8 years.

Fire calls make up 18 percent of the city’s emergency calls. The switch could mean the elimination of two supervisor positions, and one dispatch position involving five employees (because of multiple shifts) at the Des Plaines 911 dispatch center, and adding two part-time employees, Wax said.

The RED Center is a premier dispatch center specializing in handling fire department calls, Wax said. Its 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.

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.

The center received and responded to more than 37,000 fire department calls in 2012. Des Plaines would be the largest member, with a call volume of 14.6 percent based on 2012 call statistics. The center has 18 employees.

Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad said he was concerned the number of dispatchers is not enough to handle the additional calls. The two towns have a population of 96,000 people that produced 11,000 fire calls last year.

RED Center Executive Director Jim Clausen said the agency would hire two more dispatchers and appropriate support staff. Additional dispatchers could be hired if necessary, he added.

He said dispatch services can be tailored to a town’s needs and it would take roughly seven months to bring both towns on board.

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.

“It is a two- to five-second call transfer time,” Wax said. “That’s how long the call takes to get transferred to RED Center.”

“Our dispatch, from the time we answer the call until we dispatch units, is within 60 seconds 90 percent of the time,” Clausen said.

Des Plaines dispatchers can listen in to the call so they can dispatch police squad cars where needed, Wax said.

Officials said RED Center dispatchers and employees will need to get familiarized with Des Plaines streets and businesses and will begin accepting fire emergency calls by May 1.

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