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April 24, 2003

STRIKE THE BOX....and......but...but...but.....THEY'RE DEAD ANYWAY!
Chief Billy Goldfeder
WithTheCommand.Com

This is a two part story..actually, two different stories. One effects YOU and the other MAY effect you...actually, you may not give a damn about either...it all depends.

STRIKE THE BOX:
A month or so ago we wrote a column in WithTheCommand.Com and titled the two stories "Deliverance I & II"...It was about the FOREPLAY related to the "over the log" screwing we were getting ready to get from the Feds regarding the FIRE ACT GRANT FUNDING. After lots of screaming by GOOD FEDERAL FIRE folks more important than us, the FIRE ACT GRANT FUNDING was saved....for now. Now, it appears, the banjo's are starting to play their tunes again in Washington, D.C.

If you have been in the fire service more than 15 minutes, you know that the term "STRIKE THE BOX" or "PULL THE BOX" means a working fire. Yeah, I know, in YOUR TOWN you say something different...ok, you are right. Yep-it COULD mean something else. Actually, if you look at it, "STRIKE THE BOX" could mean to ELIMINATE something...such as a BOX.

I spoke with some close and trusted Federal friends yesterday and they shared with me that the NEW HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT has an ORGANIZATIONAL CHART that is drawn in a series of boxes.

Now...let's take a quick second and play WHERE'S WALDO!? Yeah-you know, where you work like hell to find the little bastid who is HIDDEN in the picture? Like most of you, I was diagnosed years ago with Super-Advanced A.D.D. so I have about 2 minutes of patience for stuff like that. Anyway-our friend said that he spent MORE than just a few minutes reviewing the new HOMELAND
SECURITY DEPARTMENT org chart and guess what? He couldn't find WALDO!! WHO IS WALDO IN THIS CASE? Waldo is the word FIRE. It seems that there is no longer a U.S. FIRE Administrator position...or ANYTHING with FIRE as a focus.

Is that a problem? Is the WORD FIRE a big deal? Well SURE it is. FIRE is still a PROBLEM is this Country and yeah-I know-sprinkler EVERYTHING and we won't have as big a problem...but YOU try and get stuff sprinklered...yeah
like I said-FIRE IS STILL A PROBLEM.

I also know that the FED's tell us that we, the so called American Fire Service "Have To Get Coordinated, Speak In One Voice, Play Better With Each Other" etc etc. I heard it personally at FDIC. And we agree...however, THAT will happen as soon as the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT sets the EXAMPLE for us amongst all of THEIR various groups and factions. Let's not forget the FINE job that the FBI did with the CIA-9/11. Ask anyone who knows, how "everyone" is doing as far as getting coordinated, speaking to each other, playing better with each other etc. with the NEW Homeland Security Dept. Yeah-exactly. Looks like one big Fire Department!

Does all that make it right? Nope. Should all of the above, including us get it together? Absolutely. But let's face reality. It ain't happening tomorrow. We are getting pushed under the carpet...we are being "hidden" (like a Crazy Uncle) in the basement and we are being ignored.

Since the FIRE SERVICE won't be speaking as ONE VOICE anytime soon...WHY? Easy answer! All those in charge of the little voices wanna BE THE BIG VOICE! Who is gonna get to be the BIG voice? Call me when ya find out.

The reality right now is that YOU need to take a minute and call YOUR FEDERAL REPS and do some LOCAL kicking and screaming. The Grand Old Man of Washington, Tip O'Neill said that  "ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL " and we probably have a better chance of:

  • Keeping and increasing the FIRE ACT Funding....
  • Keeping ALL COURSES and adding some to the NATIONAL FIRE ACADEMY (Watch for THEIR name change soon)....
  • And keeping FIRE and OUR UNITED STATES FIRE ADMINISTRATION AND ADMINISTRATOR
  • an active and critical role in the "boxes"....
IF YOU write an e-mail, make a call and do some LOCAL screaming to your LOCAL FEDERAL REPS than waiting for THE FIRE SERVICE to speak in ONE VOICE. Nothing else has worked as of yet....as the saying goes: If ya want something done
right-do it YOURSELF!

But...But.......THEY'RE DEAD ANYWAY!!!!

This a QUICK but CRITICAL item. We have said for years how important the role of your FIRE COMMUNICATIONS CENTER & 9-1-1 is, as far as the SUCCESS for your agency.

This is an example of how no matter HOW GOOD your fire/rescue/EMS etc is...if the DISPATCH CENTER is not a critical, high priority part of the overall PLAN by "those in charge" (bosses, elected officials etc) to deliver service, you will soon discover your weakest link.

We have good knowledge and history with this particular operation. We know that they are NOT funded well in salary, training and management. Quite typical, the DISPATCHERS are asked to do lots with very little. Sometimes the public suffers, sometimes firefighter, cops or EMT's suffer. But then again, if the people needing the help are DEAD anyway--it really isn't a big deal,
is it? Hmmmm.

Firefighters, Cops and EMS folks continually have issues with their communications centers. Sometimes it's valid and sometimes it's just bs whining. But in most cases that we have looked at, it comes down to a few important items such as:
 

  • A SALARY that allows them to hire qualified people as dispatchers, who can actually live on their salary.
  • TRAINING...Initial and ON-GOING that continually focuses on the mission of the dispatch center. This TRAINING also includes those IN THE FIELD having a FULL and "in-person" understanding of what THE DISPATCHERS have to do. Training applies to "both ends" of the radio.
  • SUPERVISION that insures guidance, "a back-up" and system monitoring so nothing "fall through the cracks".
  • COMMUNICATION with the CUSTOMERS of the Communication Center-to insure their needs are met in delivering service to the public.
  • COORDINATION between the center and the customers so that "every agency that they dispatch for doesn't have their own way" of doing things-which leads to the lack of standardization which leads to errors.
  • PLANNING so that the COMMUNICATIONS CENTER keeps up with the growth in their area of service.
  • ...and that is just a sampling of numerous critical items that MUST be considered, if you truly want to be able to COUNT ON your dispatch center to be as "good" as you agency considers itself to be. What would happen in your community? Could this happen? Now's the time to check it out and prevent it. Like alotta stuff...it's just how BADLY you (and "they") want it to work.
     

    The Bradenon Herald
    Apr. 24, 2003
    EDITIORIAL

    "Yes, we messed up, but it turns out they were dead anyway, so it didn't really matter."

    That's the shocking rationalization by the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center for a series of errors that resulted in a half-hour delay in an ambulance reaching the victims of an automobile crash April 13 on the Cortez Bridge. We don't know which is worse, the actual foul-ups that caused the delay or the blasé attitude about it. No sweeping changes will be made and no discipline will be handed out, said Lt. Larry Leinhauser, spokesman for the county's Department of Public Safety.

    It would seem that a mishandled call to an accident of this nature - a double fatality on one of only two bridges to Anna Maria Island - cries out for both sweeping changes in procedures for dispatching ambulances and discipline of ECC personnel who botched the calls. The center's own investigation showed that "multiple factors" contributed to the mishandled emergency. But "it
    appears that nothing that transpired would have changed the outcome of the victims," as they were killed on impact, the report says.

    That is not much consolation to citizens who depend on the ECC to speedily get an ambulance to an accident scene. Unless two green trainees were on duty that Sunday, it's hard to understand the "miscommunication" between the dispatchers who took separate calls on the crash. By Leinhauser's own admission the bridge tender gave "a pretty darn clear picture" of the tragedy
    outside his shack that morning: "A guy just ran my gates and I got the bridge halfway up and the car almost went into the water. Get a policeman here right away - and an ambulance, too." The bridge tender also told the dispatcher that the ambulance would have to come via the Anna Maria Bridge or from the island because the Cortez Bridge was partly raised and added, "Could you get
    somebody out here quickly?"

    There is nothing ambiguous about that call. Yet the dispatcher failed to convey the correct information to an ambulance crew and also logged the wrong time in for the call. When ECC received another 911 call from another witness, a second dispatcher misinterpreted the report as being only a disabled vehicle on the bridge. They tried to check with the bridge tender by
    phone but didn't have the right number. The island-based ambulance was tied up so one on the mainland was dispatched - to the wrong side of the bridge.

    That's at least five errors in the crucial first minutes after a horrendous accident, but the ECC report concludes there were no "glaring errors." What would it take to be "glaring" - the Three Stooges strangling each other with the phone cords?

    Relatives of the victims may find small comfort in the fact that their loved ones didn't suffer while awaiting medical care because the impact killed them instantly. For liability reasons, Manatee County may be extremely fortunate that that was the conclusion of the medical examiner.

    But what about the next time? What assurance does any Manatee County citizen have that, if he or she needed an ambulance fast, there wouldn't be "miscommunications" that caused needless delay? Certainly, human error is going to occur because of the simple fact that humans aren't perfect. And perhaps this was simply an unfortunate and rare series of such errors. But if
    no action is taken, no discipline imposed or procedures revised, what assurance does the public have that it won't happen again with more-tragic consequences?