Ill. city FD switching to automated 911 system to improve response time

Using the automated system, operators essentially click a button and a computer voice will alert fire stations and dispatch firefighters to the scene


Gloria Casas
The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill.

The Elgin Fire Department’s 911 notification system, which alerts firefighters to emergency calls, is becoming automated, a change that should help improve response times, Fire Chief David Schmidt said.

The software and hardware improvements will get call information to firefighters seconds earlier, Schmidt said. “We should be able to get out of the door a little quicker,” he said.

The software and hardware improvements will get call information to firefighters seconds earlier. (Photo/Winnebago County)
The software and hardware improvements will get call information to firefighters seconds earlier. (Photo/Winnebago County)

Elgin’s seven fire stations receive more than 12,000 dispatch calls a year, the chief said.

When someone makes a 911 call, a telecommunicator enters the location and nature of the incident into a computer-aided dispatch system and then manually alerts the fire stations by setting off an alarm and giving a verbal dispatch over the radio with details on the nature and location of the incident, Schmidt said.

While the telecommunicator is getting information, he or she may have to mute the emergency call to start the alert process, he said. This can cause callers to hang up or get upset about having to wait, he said.

It’s also a problem when telecommunicators need to perform multiple tasks, like assisting callers with basic first aid instructions, and can’t always put callers on hold during those critical moments in order to enter information into the alert system, he said.

Using the automated system, operators essentially click a button and a computer voice will alert fire stations and dispatch firefighters to the scene, Schmidt said. The 911 operators will be able to stay on the call to get more information for firefighters, he said.

“This really streamlines the operation,” Schmidt said.

Since the current system relies on a voice dispatch, there can be differences in the audio level, background noise and the number of details in the dispatch, Schmidt said.

“The use of the automatic voice dispatch will contribute to a more succinct dispatch because the context of the dispatch message will always be the same,” he said.

Firefighters will get used to hearing the same computerized voice on every dispatch, the chief said.

Additionally, monitors will be placed in fire stations to provide visual cues when a service call is received, he said. Lights will flash in the fire station to let firefighters know what type of emergency is happening, which will give them more time to respond, he said.

Elgin is receiving a $20,000 donation for the interfacing software from the village of South Elgin, which gets 911 dispatch services from Elgin, and the remaining $5,000 will be paid by the city of Elgin, according to city documents.

The $445,000 cost of the software will be funded through the area’s E-911 Emergency Telephone System, Schmidt said. The purchases will save the department about $375,000 over a five-year period, documents show.

The Elgin City Council approved both expenditures Wednesday. The system should be operating by 2020, Schmidt said.

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©2019 The Courier-News (Elgin, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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