Firefighters claim policy causing delayed response times - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Firefighters claim policy causing delayed response times


BRADLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) When your house is going up in flames, the time it takes firefighters to get there can be the difference between life and death. But some firefighters claim a policy in place at the Raleigh County Emergency Services Authority is adding critical minutes to their response time. 

Their objection is to a rule that essentially prevents firefighters and other first responders from serving as dispatchers under the argument that a conflict of interest exists when a firefighter is divided by their commitment as a dispatcher and a volunteer. 

But some firefighters from different departments in Raleigh County argued Wednesday the lack of ground experience at the dispatch level is crippling and confusing their emergency response efforts. 

"First responders have had boots on the ground. They know what they're doing. They know the terminology. They know when an incident commander asks for a resources, they know why they need it and how fast they need it," explained Bradley-Prosperity Vol. Fire Dept. Interim Chief Bobby Palmer,

In December, the department's Deputy Chief, Jeff Johnson, who is used to being the one called out was instead the person calling in. It was the day after Christmas and his shed was on fire. 

"I didn't realize how much time had actually passed since we started doing the paperwork and it said it was five minutes between the time the call was received and the call was dispatched." 

According to Johnson, the fire spread from his shed to his home to a neighbor's house. "This shouldn't happen to nobody...nobody."

Under protocol, Chief Palmer said dispatchers are supposed to issue a pre-alert to firefighters -- a button dispatchers press while they are still on the phone with the person reporting an emergency, but he claims in Raleigh County the step is frequently missed. 

"If someone's house has been on fire before we've been dispatched, their losing a lot of property and potentially life at that. Those are the issues we want fixed." 

The Raleigh County Emergency Services Authority responded to the firefighters complaints Wednesday with a press release, saying the 911 center currently has three dispatcher positions open. But "rest assure these vacancies have no effect on 911 call taking or dispatch of Emergency responders. Raleigh County Emergency Services Authority answers over 5,000 911 emergency calls a month and over 9,000 administrative call for local Police, Fire, EMS including Animal Control. We assure the public that there is adequate staff on duty around the clock to handle the 911 calls that this agency receives."

As for the policy, a spokesperson for the authority said the authority's board met in February to re-vist the policy, but ultimately decided to keep it. It states:

"Full time employees may not be employed by other employers which are dispatched by or may conflict with the effective operations of the RCESA.  Requests for other employment must be submitted, in written detail, and then approved by the Director before outside employment begins.  Forms are available in the Administration Office.  Failure to report outside employment may result in disciplinary action or termination.” 

The spokesperson added that several of their employees, including their current director, stepped away from their work as firefighters to work for the agency.


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