When Lathrop Manteca Fire District’s Station 35 opened in River Islands – the agency’s crown jewel and home to its administrative offices – it did so with a state-of-the-art alerting system that changed the way that first responders are notified of calls.
And now all but one of the stations within the sprawling district are utilizing the same system.
By bringing the other stations online with the new system, the district believes that it will provide information to first responders faster while at the same time creating a computer generated log file that will explain exactly what happened with the alarm – potentially saving repair costs if the system were to go down, and potential down time while waiting for a technician. It also provides an opportunity for future upgrades when new technology becomes available.
“This is important because we need to make sure our dispatch center is the most efficient it can be. Right now, we are seeing costs creep upwards – this new system has the ability to use automated voice technology similar to Alexa or Siri to dispatch calls to the stations,” Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely said. “The employee could them be redirected to answer other incoming emergencies or processes – you figure if this technology could be utilized in a county-wide regional fire dispatch center, how much money could you save the taxpayer?”
Neely, who chairs the Dispatch Joint Powers Authority, noted that costs for dispatch have been rising and that has prompted the district to look at other ways – including having a computer that pushes out calls rather than an actual dispatcher, or using the system to supplement manpower to make dispatching even more effective.
While such fundamental shifts to the existing structure within emergency services can be seen as disruptive and even difficult to implement at times, Neely believes that by being on the forefront of changes in technology – like switching over the computer systems in every fire engine to one that can operate remotely on an iPad – will improve the experience for residents while at the same time keeping costs down.
And he’s willing to advocate for more fundamental changes moving forward – like having the closest engine to a scene in a given area be the one that responds rather than basing dispatch priority to the borders of a given agency – even though he knows it will make some waves with the powers that be.
“We are out in front of a lot of issues, and that makes us a target. But we’re not afraid to make change when we know it’s the right thing to do – if we can get other adopters, we can effectively use technology to help contain our costs at our dispatch center,” Neely said. “We need to get to a true closest-unit response. If you’re in a car accident, trapped in a fire, or having a heart attack you don’t care about jurisdictional boundaries – you want a firefighter to show up and save you.”
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