June 26, 2013 - Central County Emergency 911 is scheduled to begin providing dispatching services for the Mehlville Fire Protection District this week.
MFPD Chief Brian Hendricks told the Call that Central County tentatively planned to start providing dispatching services today — June 27 — or Friday.
Mehlville's Board of Directors voted in November to approve a five-year contract with Central County for dispatching services, effective July 1.
Using Central County to dispatch MFPD vehicles will significantly decrease the district's response times for medical and fire emergencies, according to Hendricks.
"... It's truly going to be terrific. I'm really looking forward to it ...," the chief said. "It really doesn't get any better than this."
For years, South County Fire Alarm has dispatched Mehlville and several other agencies. But after considering ways the district could provide better service to residents, Hendricks recommended the board approve the contract with Central County, based in Ellisville.
Under the agreement with Central County, all of Mehlville's vehicles have been equipped with the latest in computer technology, including GPS tracking. The contract includes hardware, installation, maintenance and repair of the equipment, significantly reducing Mehlville's current expenditures, according to Hendricks.
Mehlville's seven engine houses currently have boundaries, called still-alarm areas.
Vehicles from a particular engine house respond to all calls that occur within that area. But with Central County's computer-aided dispatching, 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 — even if it's from another fire protection district or department — will be dispatched, according to D.J. Malone, a Central County dispatcher.
During a visit by the Call to Central County 911 last week, Malone outlined a hypothetical scenario of a vehicle accident at Lindbergh Boulevard and Tesson Ferry Road, saying, "... All we need to do in order to get help started is an address and a problem type ..."
In such a situation, a fire truck and an ambulance would be dispatched, he said.
"So (the computer) takes a snapshot of every single truck that is out there in the county — every single one — and it will choose the two closest," Malone said.
"... It doesn't matter whose jurisdiction, whose district you are, as long as it says ambulance on the side of that truck, you're going to be going," he said. "We are providing the quickest advanced life-support care immediately to get there ...
"This computer system is able to get the closest in ALS care to the scene and that is perfect for the citizens. They haven't gotten this before in the past. It's a great advance in technology and just patient care."
The new technology offered by Central County will allow Mehlville vehicles to be dispatched in a more efficient manner, according to Hendricks.
"Now with these computers, you'll literally hit a button and go in service. They know your status that quick. I don't have to pick up this radio mic ... Central County knows automatically you're able to take a call," he said.
Currently, each call involves four to five radio transmissions, Hendricks said, adding that with Central County, "You can literally run a call and never get on the radio."
In the past, when Mehlville vehicles used the radio to inform South County Fire Alarm of their status, the radio call could be dropped if someone else was making a radio call at the exact same time, he said.
In that case, South County Fire Alarm could be unaware of whether a vehicle was still at a call or ready to take another call.
The chief praised the board's decision to contract with Central County 911, noting that South County Fire Alarm simply cannot provide the same level of technology as Central County.
"... I went to the board and we started having discussions about this. It took some courage from the board. It's easy to say, 'Brian, it's always worked. You know, it's working. What's the problem?' But for my board to have the courage to say, 'This is the future. This is the path and we're willing to put our faith in this organization out here …'
"We're putting our faith in a group of people we really didn't know very well. But I started to get to know them and I realized how forward-thinking they were ... It was long overdue and it was a terrific decision. I can't thank the board enough for making it happen ... It's the biggest single decision they could have made."
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.
Effective July 1, Central County will serve 17 fire protection districts and departments, including Mehlville.
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. 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 on Lemay Ferry Road.
With Mehlville's switch to Central County, South County Fire Alarm will close, effective July 1. Two MFPD board members — Aaron Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman — sit on the fire alarm's three-member board.
"This was a difficult decision," Hendricks said. "It wasn't a decision taken lightly by the board and for them to have the courage to say, 'This is what's best for the taxpayers that we serve and also to take care of the employees of South County Fire Alarm.'
"My board members made it clear to me, 'Brian, get yourself up to Central County and do whatever you have to do to make sure the employees of South County Fire Alarm get a fair shake. They're going to need dispatchers and we want those dispatchers to come from here.'"
Hendricks said his goal was to ensure South County Fire Alarm employees "had a fair shake when it came to future employment, but it also was to make sure we took care of the employees that weren't going to get jobs here. And the board did that. The board put together very generous severance packages for the employees. We'll do anything and everything to try to get them employment elsewhere. That's just a testament to the board. They took care of everybody.
"They took care of the taxpayers by making the decision (to contract with Central County). They took care of the employees that didn't get employment with a terrific severance package."