EFR may drop its dispatch service
January 6, 2013
By Caleb Heeringa
New: Jan. 6, 2:17 p.m.
Eastside Fire & Rescue has informed its dispatching service that it intends to look for another agency to handle its calls at the end of 2013 unless it sees significant progress on a long-delayed software upgrade.
EFR Chief Lee Soptich said he informed Bellevue-based NORCOM, which coordinates emergency response for 14 fire districts and five police departments from Shoreline to North Bend, of his intentions last month following repeated delays in the implementation of a new computer system that’s been years in the making.
“I’m not convinced that there’s brighter things on the horizon,” Soptich said. “It seems like every time we ask a question (about the new system,) we hear, ‘We’re pretty close, we just need some more time.’”
The system in question, named New World, was originally supposed to launch in September 2011 but was taken off-line after just 16 days. NORCOM officials say the new system would be one of the more cutting-edge in the nation, capable of instantly syncing up police and fire units responding to an emergency. Dispatchers currently must handle two different computer systems and relay information between police and fire units. NORCOM Executive Director Tom Orr said the new system could make a big difference in a circumstance like that on Christmas Eve, when two firefighters were shot and killed while responding to a blaze in Webster, N.Y.
“Seconds count in public safety,” Orr said. “Anything we can do to cut down on that transfer time (between police and fire) is important.”
Soptich said the goals of the system are admirable, but the constant delays have been a hardship to EFR. The agency is still using its old dispatching system, called TriTech, but had stopped keeping up on required maintenance and software upgrades because it expected New World to be in place 15 months ago. Soptich said the agency is now looking at $180,000 worth of upgrades to the old system this year just to avoid a system crash – something that could lead to the wrong station responding to the a fire call.
The New World system has been operating smoothly for the police departments dispatched through NORCOM, but bringing fire departments online has been a challenge. Orr said the agency always knew bringing police onto the system would be easier to do than fire departments and that they expecting to have the system working by this June – on track with a new schedule agreed to late last year.
Orr said EFR joins the fire departments of Duvall and Snoqualmie in indicating that they will look for other options for dispatching service due to the delays.
“I understand their positions,” Orr said. “They’re on tight budgets and they need to see some transition.”
But Soptich said there are not a lot of apparent options for another dispatching service in the area. Kent-based Valley Communications Center, which dispatches for fire agencies in Renton, Auburn and Maple Valley, has indicated that they are at capacity and would not be looking to add partners in the near future. Partnering with a smaller dispatch center like Issaquah Police’s would likely require a large investment in new software.
Though he’s had his hopes up before only to be let down, Soptich said he’d prefer to stay with NORCOM if he sees tangible progress in making the system work for fire departments in the coming months. But he said he’s doing due diligence in looking at other options.
“This is one time where I’d love to be wrong,” he said.
Reporter Caleb Heeringa can be reached at 392-6434. ext. 247, or firstname.lastname@example.org.