November 14, 2012 - The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors last week approved a contract with Central County Emergency 911 to provide dispatching services for the district, effective July 1.
Board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman and board Secretary Ed Ryan voted to approve the contract with Central County. Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer was not present for the Nov. 7 open meeting, but attended a closed session that followed.
Chief Brian Hendricks recommended the board approve the contract with Central County.
"… Several months ago, we started looking at ways that we could streamline our dispatching, looking at ways of trying to increase our technology and deliver a better service to the taxpayers," he said. "In our looking around at different dispatch centers, I visited Central County.
"I spent a lot of time there reviewing and looking at what they offer, and I have before you a contract that would be for the Mehlville Fire Protection District for Central County 911 dispatch center that would be effective July 1, 2013."
Under the terms of the contract, Hendricks told the board Central County, based in Ellisville, "would provide all of our frontline units and spare units with the latest technology available in emergency medical dispatch as well as fire dispatch."
"All of our trucks would be outfitted with computers. All of our preplans would be at our fingertips. We would have full capability of MDT (Mobile Data Terminals) and AVL (Advanced Vehicle Locator), which is going to give us the ability to dispatch the closest piece of equipment, regardless of geographic still-alarm area.
"And I believe that it is going to bring the Mehlville Fire Protection District to … the next level of technology," the chief said.
South County Fire Alarm currently dispatches MFPD units and those of several other departments.
"With our current vendor, we don't have the ability to utilize MDT and AVL, and I believe that this is not only going to be cost effective over time, but I believe that it's going to deliver better service to the taxpayers …," Hendricks told the board.
Under the terms of the contract, Central County will provide dispatching services for the Mehlville Fire Protection District from July 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2018.
The contract then will renew automatically on an annual basis unless either party wants to cancel.
During an interview with the Call, Hendricks said using Central County will significantly decrease response times.
The district's seven engine houses currently have boundaries, called still-alarm areas. Equipment from a particular engine house responds to all calls that occur within that area. But with Central County, vehicles no longer will be restricted to the still-alarm area of the house where they are based.
Instead, the vehicle closest to the call will be dispatched, the chief said.
"… Decreasing our response times, whether it be to a fire or a medical emergency, is the single most important thing when it comes to dispatch. It's a more efficient way for us to dispatch the district," he said.
Besides improving response times, switching to Central County will allow the district to automate its preplans of buildings, which now are stored on cards in three-ring binders in district vehicles.
" … What we have to do is physically get out the preplan. It gives you a preplan number. You have to flip to card 123 and you have paper copy in front of you of where the hydrants are, where the power shutoff is, gas shutoff, water shutoff, target hazards in the building — a wide variety of things that are in that structure.
"With this system that we're going to go to, it's a touch of a button and it's all right there in front of you. Everything will be there right in front of you. We can load our preplans into it. When our crews get the assignment, they're going to get in the truck, the computer's going to be up and it's going to route them right there …"
Under the terms of the contract with Central County, the MFPD will pay 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for dispatching services. The district's current alarm-fund tax rate is 4.4 cents per $100.
The contract includes hardware, installation, maintenance and repair of equipment that will be placed in "all of our apparatus, not only our primary fleet, but our reserve fleet, all of command vehicles," Hendricks said, noting it will significantly reduce the district's current expenditures.
"I have the ability now to have all of my communication needs in one place. So we're lightening the line items of our budget. Anything telecommunications is going to be paid. I mean, it's all there," he said.
Regarding the future of South County Fire Alarm, the chief said the dispatch center will "cease operations July 1, 2013."
"We're moving in the direction of Central County to deliver the best service we can to our taxpayers. It's not a negative reflection upon the organization. It's not a negative reflection upon the people who work there. It's just I want, and our board want,s what's best for our taxpayers," Hendricks said.
"And I think that when you look at it apples to apples, we're just going to be able to deliver a better product and we're going to be able to deliver a better service to the taxpayers that we serve."
South County Fire Alarm, the first alarm center of its kind in St. Louis County, was established in March 1968 at MFPD Station No. 1, according to the alarm center's website. At that time, it provided dispatching services for seven departments, including Mehlville.
On Jan. 1, 1986, the South County Fire Alarm Association incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation. In 1989, the association moved into its current location, the Carl W. Breihan Dispatch Center, behind Mehlville's No. 7 engine house.
A three-member board — Chairman Ron Henderson of the Valley Park Fire Protection District; Stegman, who serves as secretary; and Hilmer, who serves as treasurer — oversees South County Fire Alarm.
The SCFA board recently voted to cease the center's operations on July 1 and has informed the center's 11 employees, according to Stegman and Hendricks.
Agencies currently dispatched by SCFA will have plenty of time to transition, the chief said.
Stegman told the Call using Central County will benefit residents and district employees.
"… We're into the highest level of technology. We're always looking forward and wanting to get the best service for our residents," she said. "It also is helpful for the employees here, too, because any time it's safer for them, anything we can do to help them is always a plus.
"In that way, I think it's good for both the employees and for residents."