Borough, 911 disagree about dispatching


First Posted: 4/1/2012

Back Mountain emergency responders are giving the new Luzerne County administration two weeks to resolve an ongoing dispute with county 911 officials before bringing things to a head with county council.

Emergency responders from seven Back Mountain communities on Monday night attended a press conference called by Harveys Lake officials to make the public aware of problems they are having with county 911 dispatch protocols.

Harveys Lake Deputy Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Rich Williams said the press conference was necessary because he called county manager Robert Lawton six times about the issue and Lawton did not return a call until Williams informed him he was going to the media. He said the previous administration did not address the issues raised last year.

Williams said Luzerne County 911’s move in October to stop simultaneously dispatching a Kunkle ambulance crew along with a Harveys Lake ambulance crew for calls in Harveys Lake could cause up to a nine-minute delay in response time – “the difference between life and death.”

Harveys Lake ambulance is totally volunteer and has relied on Kunkle for back-up when the borough doesn’t have a full crew available. Kunkle doesn’t have the problems with volunteer availability that Harveys Lake sometimes experiences, but Kunkle also has no problem with responding simultaneously to a Harveys Lake call even if not needed, Williams said.

Kunkle Fire Chief Jack Dodson agreed. He said the simultaneous dispatch system worked well for more than 50 years, and there was no reason to change it.

But since October, when 911 dispatches an ambulance call to Harveys Lake and there is no response within three minutes, it will call Harveys Lake a second time. If no response is received after three more minutes, it will dispatch a third time. Only after a total of nine minutes with no response will 911 dispatch Kunkle, unless Harveys Lake previously informed the county it did not have a crew available.

And that’s the way it is in all communities in the county, said 911 Executive Director David Parsnik. “There is no simultaneous dispatch. We ask ambulance organizations to let us know when they’re in service and when they’re not. If they’re not in service or they fail to crew, then the second-due is dispatched.”

Parsnik said the county’s new $1.8 million computer-aided dispatch system that went into operation in October wasn’t set up for simultaneous dispatch of ambulance calls. “We don’t want to dispatch two (Advanced Life Support) units to one call,” he said.

Parsnik said Act 78, a state law governing provision of emergency services, authorizes the county to design and implement a 911 dispatch system. He said the system “works fine as it is and there is no reason to change it. … The only way there would be a problem is if Harveys Lake told us they were in service and they weren’t able to crew,” he said.

But Williams said Parsnik is choosing the sections of Act 78 he wants to follow. He said another section of the statute states that the county plan “shall be designed to meet the individual circumstances of each community and public agencies participating in the 911system.”

And, Williams said, Act 8 stipulates it is up to the borough “to determine the means and extent to which emergency services will be provided with in the borough. … Act 78 states the county plan must meet the borough’s individual circumstances,” he said.

Trucksville Fire Chief Bill Eck said county officials don’t seem to understand or want to accommodate the circumstances of communities with all-volunteer emergency services.

“I believe the county is trying to force the volunteers out by driving these useless mandates down our throats,” Eck said.

Williams said it should be noted that “there is money to be made in fire and EMS,” and having a private ambulance company provide back-up could lead to more taxes or higher fees for residents.

“There are two kinds of providers – those who do it because they love their community and helping other people, and those who do it for the money,” he said.

Williams emphasized that it is not 911 dispatchers causing a problem because they follow protocols set by managers; their problem is with 911 management, he said.

Williams said Luzerne County 911’s move in October to stop simultaneously dispatching a Kunkle ambulance crew along with a Harveys Lake ambulance crew for calls in Harveys Lake could cause up to a nine-minute delay in response time – “the difference between life and death.”

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