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911 Cell Phone Calls Key for Fire Department's Stance on Dispatch Center's Future

Waukesha's acting Fire Chief Steven Howard brings attention to the 63-second delay in transferring 911 cell phone calls from the county to the city. Howard says the city or the county dispatch center would meet the fire department's needs.

The city’s inability to directly receive 911 cell phone calls has acting Fire Chief Steve Howard concerned about response times.

Emergency calls made in the City of Waukesha from a cell phone are first routed to the Waukesha County Communications Center. The calls are then forwarded by the county dispatchers to the city’s dispatch center in the .

The average delay in 2011 was 63 seconds, with more than 60 percent of 911 calls coming from cell phones, Howard wrote in a two-page letter to

There is no delay when people dialed 911 from a landline.

“The fire department’s strategic planning has stressed to the Common Council that rapid response times to fire and medical emergencies are paramount to having positive outcomes for the public we serve,” Howard said. “While further evaluating our dispatch needs, fire department staff feels very strongly that the dispatch center serving the City of Waukesha should be able to receive 911 calls from traditional land lines and from cellular phones.”

Howard was asked to provide Pieper with the ’s recommendations as the Common Council examines if it wants to join the county’s dispatch center as a cost-savings measure as the city deals with significant budget cuts each year.

The fire department feels that either dispatch center would serve its needs – as long as whichever dispatch center is selected directly receives cell phone calls.

“There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems,” Howard said. “Based on our knowledge and experience, fire department staff believes that both dispatch centers are capable of meeting the needs of our community for the services we provide.”

Meanwhile, Howard suggested looking at the potential of co-locating the city’s dispatch center with the county’s center to cut some costs. Instead of joining the center, the city could potentially save in facility costs, capital improvements and operational expenses. In turn, the city’s dispatchers could perform the current duties they currently provide, such

A similar by some Waukesha aldermen in April.

“All 911 calls would be answered in the same location greatly reducing response time for emergencies reported using cellular phones in the City of Waukesha,” Howard said. “A logical first step would be to have key stakeholders from the City of Waukesha and Waukesha County meet to determine if this is a viable option or even a concept the county would be interested in.”

Police Strongly Against Joint Dispatch

The takes a different stance toward consolidation. In an investigative study conducted by the police department and during a April 17 meeting at Waukesha North High School, Police Chief Russell Jack stressed why he feels the police department should maintain control of its dispatch center.

The chief played examples of dispatches going wrong at county, including one where a suspect wanted by a Waukesha detective was able to get away in Brookfield because the dispatchers at the county were not communicating with each other.

Joining the county’s dispatch center would save the city on average $14 per household per year during the next 10 years, according to an analysis done by the Waukesha Police Department.

Jack in April warned the aldermen about the repercussions about making a permanent dispatch switch after playing recordings of numerous county dispatch calls that were handled incorrectly.

Officials from Waukesha County have called for the city to have an independent study into the possibility of joining its dispatch center. The Waukesha County dispatch center currently serves dozens of law enforcement and fire department agencies in the county, with the largest community being Brookfield.

“I would not want my appearance before the City Council to create the impression that Waukesha County is making a ‘sales pitch’ for the city to join WCC,” said Vrakas in a March letter to Mayor Jeff Scrima. “We are not looking for clients or customers. We are looking for willing partners in public safety. Any new partner must demonstrate agreement between its mayor, council and police and fire chief that joining the WCC is the right fit for their city and taxpayers.”

Vrakas drew attention to a similar independent study conducted by professionals on behalf of New Berlin as it considers joining the Waukesha County Communications Center.

Once Waukesha has completed an independent study, Vrakas told Scrima he would be “happy to discuss the results with you.”

Police Want 911 Cell Phone Calls

Jack made it clear he would also like the city to be able to directly receive the 911 cell phone calls instead of having the calls routed through the county dispatch center. The chief feels the county should release those phone calls.

“There would be no delay because the 911 cell calls would no longer be transferred,” Jack said during the April 17 meeting at Waukesha North.

Keeping a Close Watch on Muskego’s Fight

In the meantime, city law enforcement officials are keeping a close eye on a southeastern Waukesha County community that is doing all it can to get the 911 cell phone calls sent directly to its dispatch center.

The Muskego Police Department to have the 911 cell phone calls given directly to their dispatchers instead of being routed through the county’s dispatch system.

The dispute between the city of Muskego and Waukesha County over access to wireless emergency routes won't be resolved by the Federal Communications Commission.

In a letter sent to the city and county, the FCC basically said the matter was one of jurisdiction, and that it would not render a decision in which municipality could handle cellular 911 calls made from within Muskego. The city has argued that the current system wastes time in emergencies.

The that it is better staffed to handle the calls for the area, and giving every city its own access to those calls would create other problems in getting help to residents in emergencies.

The dispute has gone on since fall and after a between the city and county yielded no results, Muskego filed a . Most recently the to advise the county that it is considering further legal action, and if the county did not respond or rejects requests again, litigation would follow.

Richard Tuma, the county's director of emergency preparedness, told Patch "we were not surprised by the letter from the FCC. When we had our meeting in December with the city, and were asked about the letter the city sent to the FCC, we stated that in the past the FCC has taken the position that this type of issue is a local one."

Jason J May 01, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Time to join the lawsuit against WCC for them not turning over the 911 calls to the City. Have you ever called 911 just to get the run around from them until they transfer you to the City? It is much faster to call the non emergency line on your cell vs going through WCC. I think Muskego is threatening a lawsuit now, lets join and share the expense and keep our response times down. Ald Cummings take note... if you are not too busy kissing up to the county.

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