Visit to county's consolidated dispatch center gives first-responders a chance to close the loop on communications.
It was a quiet-enough Monday morning on the second floor of a nondescript county building near the corner of Cattlemen Road and Bahia Vista Street. The calm of headsetted professionals each sitting in front of jumbo display screens belied the often-opposite side of the 911 calls they were handling.
Sarasota County’s Emergency Operations Center is a serious place. But not so serious that Halloween spiders can’t hang from the ceiling and that friendly ghosts can’t stand in the corner under a video monitor.
Longboat Key first responders were visiting on this morning to take part in a monthly training session designed to help them better understand the roles of emergency call-takers and radio dispatchers on which they rely.
A lot of their questions were operational. But the overall idea was a better understanding of the system as a whole.
Kristen Fitzpatrick, an operations manager at the center, walked a trio of Longboat Key’s firefighter/paramedics through the flow of emergency calls, which are first fielded by staffers trained to quickly learn the basics of everything from a low-level need to a major catastrophe.
From there, calls are coded for either police or fire (or both), and a radio dispatcher then begins assigning the closest available firetrucks, ambulances and personnel as needed.
“This is really, really important,” Fitzpatrick said as Longboat personnel sat with radio dispatchers to watch the process and hear what was going out on the radio, adding it's easy for firefighters in the field to forget what might be happening back at the dispatch center.
Firefighter/paramedic Jamison Urch sat for a while with the radio dispatcher working the Longboat Key area. He said it was a special way to gain a perspective.
“Above and beyond,” he said. “We got to go and see the other side of the radio, if you will, which is something I have never experienced.”
As he was plugged in and working with dispatcher Pam Manning, a fire alarm call from Grand Bay Boulevard was received. Truck 92 and Rescue 91, both of which are Longboat Key Fire Department units, were sent out.
“She allowed me to respond back as dispatch to Truck 92, so I got to talk to my lieutenant,” Urch said.
The series of visits that ultimately included all firefighters/paramedics is valuable, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said. Over the summer, a group of dispatchers visited Longboat Key to gain insight into what happens in the field. Dezzi said it was an important piece of continuing education.
“The feedback is great,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said a segment on dispatch operations is part of a firefighter’s basic training, and on-the-job firefighters do visit on occasional tours as well.
“We welcome anybody,” she said. “It doesn’t happen enough, in my opinion.”