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Ten minutes in dispatch, “all hell broke loose,” legislator says

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Jefferson County Legislator Anthony J. Doldo, R-Watertown, was observing operations in the county’s dispatch center Dec. 3 when a three-vehicle crash on Route 3 in Great Bend left six people injured.

“It was unbelievable,” Mr. Doldo said. “It went from zero to 60 in no time at all. I was very impressed. They did a great job.”

The county’s dispatch center, which is tucked away in a section of the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building, has been thrust into the spotlight by a debate over proper staffing levels there.

But as Jefferson County legislators sort through the issue, which revolves around budgetary constraints, people are taking notice of dispatchers for a very different reason elsewhere in the country.

The day after Mr. Doldo’s visit, recordings of 911 calls from from the Newtown, Conn., school shooting one year ago were released.

“They not only paint a picture of anguish and tension inside the building, they also show town dispatchers mobilizing help, reassuring callers and urging them to take cover,” the Associated Press reported.

Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer, who oversees the dispatch center, said last week that while he had reservations about the release of the audio recordings, they brought much-needed attention to the work done by dispatchers.

Several articles about the recordings comment on how the dispatchers calmly executed their duties during the shooting.

It was the same during the Great Bend accident.

“They’re very professional at what they do,” Mr. Doldo said.

“It becomes extremely labor intensive when something happens,” Mr. Plummer said. “The calls don’t stop until a pair of red lights gets on the scene.”

Mr. Doldo said he visited the center to learn more about operations there.

“The more you go and get involved, the more you understand, and that prompts questions,” Mr. Doldo said. “I had no idea what dispatch even looks like, to be honest with you.”

Shortly after he arrived at the center, calls about the accident began rolling in, Mr. Doldo said.

“All hell broke loose,” Mr. Doldo said. “They were calling for ambulances. Then they were calling for one helicopter and then calling for two helicopters.”

In the middle of all the commotion, someone from the news media called to ask where the accident was, Mr. Doldo said, adding that he was impressed by the composure of the dispatcher who took the call.

Several radio calls and phone calls came in as dispatchers were responding to the emergency, Mr. Doldo said.

There were four dispatchers and one supervisor on duty at the time, he said.

Information provided to Jefferson County legislators by County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III showed a fluctuation in computer-aided dispatch event volume based on the time of day.

According to the data, event volume peaks in mid-afternoon and falls off toward evening, with the exception of Friday and Saturday nights, when it remains high.

The lowest frequency of CAD events for all days comes between 4 and 6 a.m.

The accident in the town of Champion occurred about 5 p.m.

A 16-year-old boy was driving a tractor towing a manure spreader on Route 3 when he stopped to make a left-hand turn on Bud Lo Drive and his vehicle was struck by an SUV, which subsequently was struck head on by an automobile, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

Mr. Doldo said he rode out to the scene of the accident with Mr. Plummer, listening to dispatchers along the way.

Two injured people were taken via helicopter to Upstate Medical University, Syracuse. The other four were taken to Samaritan Medical Center.

In October, Mr. Plummer asked the county to hire three additional dispatchers to alleviate the excessive overtime he said his employees were working because of the increased call volume and the burnout they were experiencing.

Jefferson County legislators have approved the hiring of one additional dispatcher next year. They also moved the start date for that position from July to January.

But legislators and county administrators say they need to take a closer look at management practices within the department, including scheduling shifts according to event volume, before they look at hiring additional dispatchers.

“There’s more good discussion that could be done with this,” Mr. Doldo said. “They’ve asked for two more spots. With those come more questions. Let’s not just drop it because we gave them one.”

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