The past 3 years, it was announced by top brass that the FDNY has responded to a record number of incidents in it's 150 year history. There is no argument, the number of emergencies are up. But what contributes to the increase? Cell phones certainly has played it's part. Everyone has one, if you see something, say something. However, a number of incidents are sent out to fire companies that don't necessarily require a big red fire truck; and there are others that absolutely did not require it from the start. How? Why?
A few years ago, the Bloomberg administration altered the City's 911 system to a 'Unified Call Taker' system, claiming the new system could shave seconds off of response times of emergency services including the Fire Department. Ultimately, the Fire Department was most affected by this adjustment. Prior to the implimentation, the FDNY had individual fire dispatch centers in all 5 boroughs. When a civilian dials 911 to report an emergency, the 911 operator immediately begins the call by asking for the location. Once the basic information is entered into their computer, if the caller indicates it is an emergency for the Fire Department, the 911 operator transfers the call to the Fire Alarm Reciept Dispatcher (ARD) in the appropriate borough. The Fire Dept ARD can now interrogate the caller to determine if a response is necessary, as well as what kind of response this should get. All dispatchers are vaguely familiar with their boroughs, they had to travel to the Central Office so they were able to conduct their own size up including traffic and weather conditions. All of this information is used to dispatch apparatus to Fires and Emergencies. When the ARD completes the phone call, the information entered in the computer gets sent to the Decision Dispatcher who shapes the assignment and determines which companies respond. Being that these 2 are in the same room, the ARD can relay any information to help the DD shape the assignment (Such as is the caller excited? Does it sound like this call has potential to be a real fire? Is the caller at the location or calling from 20 blocks away). All of this information is extremely important, especially when you are sending emergency vehicles with lights and sirens blaring on the streets. The ARD, DD and Radio operator are near each other, so the Radio Operator can relay that information verbally over the radio to the responding units.
That sounds like a good operation, right? Well, when the Bloomberg administration stepped in and decided to change a system that worked for years and years for the busiest Fire Department in the world, they took away the ARD's calls from the 911 system. The research determined that the 911 system, which isn't near the Fire Dispatchers, should take the call completely and send the computer information electronically to the Fire Dispatchers. 911 operators use different 'lingo'. They are not used to Fire Operations, or the pertinant information Fire Dispatchers require. Now, the DD's computer beeps, which means they have an incident in que they need to send out. That incident usually comes over with little to no information. The DD can't stand up and yell over to the ARD to ask them what the screen is about. To prevent any delay in Fire Department response, the DD will release the screen with whatever information was sent over(even if there is nothing). Tones go over in the firehouse, it's a full response, Engine Truck and Chief go! E=Multiple Dwelling 'A' Apartment 2B. Alright! Something is going on in a Apartment 2B.... but what? Is it a fire? Should we pick up the pace a little? Do we need to put all hundred pounds of gear we have on? The dispatchers are working on finding out what is happening at the incident, sometimes they find out, sometimes they don't. A lot of times, assignments are reduced because it is a call that was sent in error or did not require a full response. But what happened in that time that the incident was sent and the real information was relayed. Sirens blaring, fire trucks going through red lights, people moving out of the way, the adrenaline push that every firefighter has when the tones go over was all for nothing.
EMS has a system called Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD). Their dispatchers have to talk to the caller so that they can determine their response and provide medical instructions over the phone to the caller. Isn't this kind of the same thing as the Fire Dispatch system? Taking the calls away from our Fire Dispatchers is criminal. The lucky part is that no member of service has been killed due to a UCT error or lack of information. There have been numerous incidents the Fire Department responded to which wasn't for a fire truck (Bank hold up alarm, Landlord Tenant dispute). These errors happen on a daily basis.
Another contributor to the rise in Emergencies is the 311 system. NYC takes complaints via 311 to an operator who follows her book. Instead of calling the necessary agency to report your condition, you speak to a generic 311 operator. That operator will forward the complaint to who ever is on the list. Our dispatchers used to have the power to interrogate the caller to find out if the tree down is on private property or blocking a street, is the water leak due to a clogged toilet or a pipe burst. The FDNY does not respond to a clogged toilet, but when a vague incident of 'Water Leak' is sent over, the incident is dispatched as such. Unfortunately, our dispatchers do not have that power any more.
All of this is tying down our emergency workers and contributing to the record number of incidents responded to by FDNY units. The desired effect was to shave a few seconds off of a response time, but the UFA claims the response time reporting is done incorrectly by the City. There is no benefit to this system but no end in sight. Instead of Unified Call Taker, the UCT system is known in the field as 'U Can't Tell', and rightfully so.
Related Links: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/new-york-city-confirms-new-911-system-mess-article-1.1072941
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hh41UgVVZOk Video:UFA NYC Council 9-1-1 UCT hearing coverage
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vumeouq2qcA Video: Steve Cassidy on NYC Response times.
http://www.ufanyc.org/press/121009.php 2009 UFA reports on the fatally flawed UCT system.