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30 seconds to make a difference

PORT ORCHARD — Eager to cut emergency response times even shorter, Fire District’s 7’s Chief Mike Brown is propsoing a pre-alert system that would get fire personnel out the door up to 30 seconds faster.

Although 30 seconds may not sound like a lot, in a business where speed matters and response times are calculated in minutes, 30 seconds can mean the difference between a healthy recovery and permanent injury, Brown pointed out. Currently, 911 dispatchers take all the relevant information from callers and then relay it to responding fire stations. The firefighters then don whatever equipment they need and head for their rigs.

“There’s a whole chain of events that goes on from the time someone calls 911 to when you really can intervene at an event,” Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue Chief Ken Burdette said. “The quicker we can get help on the scene, the better.”

The whole process is supposed to take two minutes — 60 seconds for the 911 call and 60 seconds to dress and get out the door, day or night. To shave 30 seconds, or a quarter of the time, off that amount, Brown proposes “toning out” the firefighters as soon as dispatch confirms the call is a real emergency and gets an address from the caller. The principal purpose is to get medical personnel on-scene even faster to treat life-threatening conditions, but Brown said the system could help with all types of calls.

“The way a fire progresses, 30 seconds can be huge,” he said.

“Each time we reduce our timeframe, it means less damage in a fire or fewer medical expenses or better survival rates for a heart-attack victim,” Burdette said.

Dave Magnenat, CenCom’s deputy director, said his staff has done some preliminary research on Brown’s idea and thinks it can be done. The biggest obstacle to implementing the proposal is money. CenCom currently has one fire dispatch position — the same number it had when it entered service in 1976. Working a two-tone system would require a second position and approximately five additional people to staff it 18 hours a day. Magnenat said he was still researching what adding the position would cost, but pointed out it would be even more costly to aim for round-the-clock coverage.

“Eighteen hours a day is a way to get started, to get the busiest times of the day and the busiest days of the week covered,” he said.

CenCom does have the space and computer resources needed to support a second dispatcher, even in its current facility. From a personal standpoint, Magnenat said, a second fire dispatcher would improve things a lot at CenCom by reducing the load on the current dispatch position.

“They’re overwhelmed,” he said.

“They are getting so busy, they’re not only dispatching units, but also communicating with those same units,” Burdette said. “If you’ve got units responding all over the county, it can just create more delays.”

Magnenat hopes to get the majority of the research done by May 3, when he is scheduled to present the project proposal to the Kitsap fire chiefs.

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