posted November 2012
On November 26th there was an early morning house fire in North Orinda. There was some controversy regarding the timeliness of the response including the dispatch time. It appears that it could have taken up to ten minutes before the MOFD units were even dispatched. Seeing as the MOFD standard for responding to a fire, or any other time critical emergency, is six minutes after receiving the dispatch, a ten minute delay in dispatching would be significant. This Task Force article will describe what the Task Force understands of MOFD's dispatch system.
The public response at the time of the incident was chronicled in the Lamorinda Patch which, in turn, referred to an article written for the Miramonte school paper by a student who lived next door to the home that burned. That article stated that the first call for assistance occurred about 6:30 AM and MOFD / ConFire records show that units were dispatched just after 6:40. Is a ten minute dispatch time possible? Normal? A commenter to the Patch article said that he too experienced a ten minute delay in the dispatch to a fire at his home. How are units dispatched at MOFD?
MOFD units are dispatched by the ConFire dispatch system as are several other independent agencies in Contra Costa County in addition to ConFire itself. In 2009 the state agency Contra Costa LAFCO did a review of all emergency service agencies in the county as it does every five years. It produced a huge (350 page) report on all aspects of emergency services in the county including dispatching. This report is included as Exhibit I-4b of this Task Force report and the description of the dispatch network starts on page 37 of that report.
To summarize, a call may go through as many as three dispatchers before it reaches MOFD.1) A cell phone call goes first to the CHP dispatcher.2) The call then goes to the primary PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) which for the MOFD service area is the Contra Costa County Sherriff. Land line calls go directly to the Sherriff's dispatcher.3) From there, any call that is to be finally routed to MOFD (as opposed to Orinda or Moraga Police) goes to the ConFire dispatcher.4) And finally, the ConFire dispatcher dispatches the appropriate MOFD unit(s).
The LAFCO report does not report on the amount of time step one takes (processing at the CHP level); says that dispatch times at step two (the primary PSAP - the Sherriff) is "unknown"; but reports that dispatch times for ConFire are within 2:12 minutes 90% of the time.
So could the dispatch have taken ten minutes as the Miramonte reporter claimed and the Patch commenter agreed with? It would appear that any call that has to be routed through three agencies could be delayed. Was the call made on a land line or cell phone? Can the Miramonte reporter obtain phone records to confirm the time of the initial call? But most importantly, can something be done to improve dispatch times?
Another responder to the Patch article was a reader, Kelley Dwyer, who has worked for the ConFire dispatch center for 11 years. She states that a dispatch from ConFire would never take ten minutes and the LAFCO report would seem to confirm that. However, she goes on to say that such a delay could come from using a cell phone going through the CHP. She does not believe such a delay would occur from a land line going straight to the Sherriff's dispatcher. She also handed out an important piece of information that the Task Force is surprised is not on every document and web site of MOFD and every other agency in the county including the City of Orinda and Town of Moraga: there is a direct dial number that goes straight to the ConFire dispatch center bypassing steps one and two above - (925) 933-1313.
Most people know when an emergency is for the fire department or the police but, in most cases, life and death emergencies in the MOFD service area are for the fire department so it may be good to err on the side of getting the wrong dispatcher at first by going straight to the fire department with this bypass of the 911 system if the emergency is local.
Are there equivalent emergency numbers for the police (bypassing the CHP on cell phones)?