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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 DISPATCH






KEELER RETIRES FROM CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911 BOARD

April 4, 2016 - West Newsmagazine

Cathy Keeler, a Creve Coeur Fire Protection District board member who represents the district on the Central County Emergency 911 Board, has decided not to seek re-election to the CCE board.

After more than five years of board service, Keeler attended her last CCE board meeting on March 23. At that meeting, Keeler received a plaque from Tim Flora, CCE board chairman, recognizing her service, which included a stint as board chair from late 2013 until early 2014.

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MEET TIM CONROY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911


Tim Conroy [right], the new executive director at Central County Emergency 911, checks activities in the dispatch center's operations area.

January 18, 2016 - West Newsmagazine By: Jim Erickson

Tim Conroy, the new executive director of the Central County Emergency 911 dispatch center [CCE] in Ellisville, has no illusions about the average person's awareness of the operation he heads and the role it plays daily in saving lives and property.

The fact that few know about the activities taking place in the lower-level area of the Weis Avenue building in Ellisville bothers him not at all and is quite understandable, he said in a recent interview.

"How many times during a typical person's lifetime does he or she call 911?" Conroy asked. "And what's on that person's mind when making a 911 call? Getting the help needed to deal with an emergency situation."

Given the infrequent experience the vast majority of people have in calling 911 and their singular focus when they do, an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes isn't high on the priority list, Conroy acknowledged. However, since mid-November, the specific and detailed protocols that emergency dispatchers are expected to follow when they answer those calls has been Conroy's top priority

"We have a staff of well-trained, highly qualified dispatchers here," Conroy said. "It's my job to take them to the next level."

Conroy, 57, has more than 30 years of experience in St. Louis area dispatching operations, most of it at the former North Central County Fire Alarm. North Central is one of two dispatch centers that have combined with CCE in recent years, and Conroy spent almost two years at the Ellisville operation assisting with that service area expansion.

He then served two years as the fire and EMS deputy director at St. Louis County's Bureau of Communications before returning to CCE to replace longtime executive director Mike Turner, who announced his retirement late last year.

Conroy's local experience means he knows personally almost all the chiefs of the agencies CCE now serves.

He conceded that he is uncomfortable talking about himself, but said he and his wife are the proud parents of five and that they have 10 grandchildren. Their sports and other activities "are the highlight of my life," he said.

"I'm not a flashy guy," Conroy said. "I'm not here for me. I'm here for our customers and the taxpayers we serve. They [CCE's member agencies] just want them to know they [the taxpayers] can sleep well tonight because we've got their back."

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NEW EXECUTIVE NAMED TO LEAD CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911

November 6, 2015 - West Newsmagazine By: Jim Erickson

Tim Conroy will begin his duties as executive director of the Central County Emergency 911 dispatch center on Nov. 16.

Conroy's hiring and the terms of his employment were set after a recent meeting of the CCE Board of Directors. He succeeds Mike Turner, who is ending a 38-year career with the Ellisville-based operation.

CCE handles 911 calls for fire and emergency medical services and dispatches first responders from the 34 agencies that either own the center or use its services. Those fire and EMS districts and departments cover most of St. Louis County as well as portions of adjoining counties.

Conroy is a former CCE employee who last year had joined St. Louis County as its fire dispatch deputy director. In his new position, Conroy will receive an annual salary of $97,500, three weeks' vacation and a CCE-owned vehicle for his use. He also will receive pension benefit credits for his earlier service at CCE.

Turner announced plans earlier this year to retire Oct. 1 but agreed to stay on during the hiring process and his successor's transition. Tim Flora, CCE board chairman, said Turner will remain on the job at CCE until Dec. 31. Should Turner's services be needed after that, it will be on a contract basis, Flora noted.

"With (Turner's) pending retirement, the board of directors is glad the selection process for a new executive director is complete. The board is looking forward to working with Tim Conroy and continuing to provide the same outstanding service to the citizens and fire/EMS agencies we serve," Flora said.

He added that Turner's "leadership and experience will be greatly missed." The CCE board is composed of one representative from each of the five fire and EMS districts that own the dispatch center. Those are Monarch, Metro West, Maryland Heights, Creve Coeur and West County fire protection districts. Other agencies use the center's service under contract.

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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 HEAD TO REMAIN ON JOB

October 28, 2015 - West Newsmagazine

The task of hiring a new executive director for Central County Emergency 911 is taking longer than anticipated, so the organization's board has asked the retiring head of the operation to remain on the job until Dec. 31.

The CCE Board of Directors continued its applicant evaluation and interview process during an executive session at its Sept. 30 meeting. Tim Flora, board chairman, said the board so far has interviewed four candidates to replace Mike Turner, who earlier this year announced plans to retire Oct. 1.

Three of the four candidates have been scheduled for second interviews and the board plans to meet with other applicants as well, Flora said.

In his retirement announcement, Turner said he would remain on the job if needed to assist in the hiring and transition process, and the board decided to take him up on the offer.

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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 NAMES POTENTIAL NEW DIRECTOR

October 8, 2015 - West Newsmagazine

Before its Sept. 30 meeting, the Central County Emergency 911 Board of Directors had determined the task of hiring a new executive director was taking longer than anticipated. Accordingly, directors had asked Mike Turner, who earlier had announced he would retire as of Oct. 1, to remain on the job for as long as Dec. 31.

However, the situation changed dramatically after the board met in closed session near the end of that Sept. 30 meeting to continue the applicant review and evaluation process. Returning to open session, Board Chairman Tim Flora announced that the directors had voted to extend an employment offer to Tim Conroy, a former CCE employee who had joined St. Louis County as its fire dispatch deputy director.

Although the employment offer was announced, Flora said in a later interview that the hiring process is not yet final because a compensation package and other details still must be completed. Flora also emphasized that the board's decision should in no way be viewed as setting the stage for a possible merger of CCE's fire and emergency medical dispatching operation with similar functions handled by the county's new communication center in Ohlendorf West Park. The possibility of combining the two dispatching centers has been raised in the past.

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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 BOARD ANNOUNCES SEARCH, HIRING PLANS


Photo: Tim Flora

July 6, 2015 - West News Magazine

- The Central County Emergency 911 Board of Directors has made plans to search for a new executive director and hopes to make a hiring decision before the end of August.

Tim Flora, board chairman, said that while he and other directors want the search and hiring process to move expeditiously, any number of delays could arise and he's not making any guarantees.

"We would like to have the new person on board before Mike's (Turner, the current executive director) retirement date so there can be some transition time," Flora said. "But at this point there's no way we can be sure that will happen. Mike has said, though, that he'll stay on if that's what is needed for a smooth changeover."

Turner announced in April that he will retire Oct. 1, ending a 38-year career with the CCE dispatch center including 24 years as its executive director.

Flora said the board has approved an ad telling about the executive director position. The notice will appear in journals targeting those in emergency communications work.

A selection committee from the board will review applications received and decide on an interview process and its timing.

Flora said he wants at least three directors from the five-member board to serve on the selection committee.

"But if they all want to be on the committee, that's OK as far as I'm concerned," he said.

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LONGTIME CENTRAL COUNTY 911 EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TO RETIRE IN FALL


Photo - Michael Turner

May 5, 2015 - West Newsmagazine By: Jim Erickson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Michael (Mike) Turner, whose 38-year career with the Central County Emergency 911 dispatch center includes 24 years as its executive director, will retire Oct. 1.

That announcement was made by the dispatch operation through Tim Flora, chairman of its board of directors.

"Mike has successfully steered this important public safety organization into the 21st century, both in technology and operations, with a steady hand," Flora said in the announcement.The Ellisville-based center answers 911 calls and dispatches fire and emergency medical personnel from the fire and EMS entities it serves. Recent consolidation moves involving similar operations in north and south St. Louis County have greatly enlarged the number of first responder agencies whose calls are handled by Central County.

Turner will continue working full-time through September, Flora noted.

A longtime West County resident, Turner, 60, began his career with Central County in 1977 as a dispatcher. He rose through the ranks and was appointed executive director in 1991.

During his tenure as head of the dispatch center, he led the organization through a number of major changes and leading edge technology moves that included being the first in the region to have computer-aided dispatching capabilities, mapping technology to locate 911 callers in need of help and being able to route the closest available emergency personnel to reduce response times.

Turner also oversaw the design and construction of Central County's current facility on Weis Avenue in Ellisville.

"I've had the good fortune to work with outstanding elected officials and fire and EMS chiefs through the St. Louis region during my career," Turner said, noting that the most important members of his operation are "the dispatchers who answer the public's call for help 24/7.""The public can rest at night knowing that help will be there when they call," he continued. "I will miss working with the tremendous team we have built (here) .... but I am also looking forward to another chapter in my life."

Turner and his wife, Nancy, have a daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

Although there have been rumblings of a possible merger of the Ellisville operation with the new St. Louis County Emergency Communications facility in Ohlendorf West Park, Flora said the Central County board is moving ahead on the basis that it will remain a separate entity. To that end, it will begin a search for Turner's successor immediately.

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CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911 BOARD APPROVES FY2015 BUDGET

January 15, 2015 - West Newsmagazine By: Jim Erickson

As last year wound down to an end, the Central County Emergency 911 Board of Directors approved the organization's 2015 budget, which is expected to result in a small increase in the organization's unallocated fund balance by the end of next year.

With projected revenues of $7.3 million, operational expenditures of $5.95 million and non-operational costs of nearly $1.227 million, the end result should be a $123,000 addition to CCE's fund balance, boosting that account to $1.37 million.

The 2015 budget includes an almost $351,000 principal payment on a line of credit the Ellisville-based center established in 2013 to help pay for a major expansion. The center also used more than $1.2 million of its reserves to finance that growth.

Employee salaries and benefits will be some $3.3 million in 2015 and represent CCE's largest expense item. Telephone communications services of more than $1.5 million and capital outlays of $486,000 - with most going for computer software upgrades - are other major expenditures budgeted in 2015.

In recent years, CCE's board has included one representative from each of the six fire and EMS districts that have an ownership interest in the center. Other districts and departments contract with the center for dispatch services. Effective in 2015, CCE's board will drop to five members when one of its current owners, the Meramec Ambulance District, becomes a contract entity.

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CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911 RECAPS ITS EFFORTS IN RESPONDING TO FERGUSON'S NEEDS

December 19, 2014 - West Newsmagazine By: Jim Erickson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Personnel from Central County Emergency 911 brought their "A game" to help deal with the recent civil unrest that followed the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting death.

That description of how the dispatch center's employees performed came from Michael Turner, CCE's executive director, in a review of actions taken to handle the expected higher volume of calls for fire and emergency medical services.

At the Dec. 18 CCE Board of Directors meeting, Turner provided a detailed look at actions the agency took in the wake of planning efforts that began a month before the grand jury's decision was announced.

The preparations involved key emergency personnel from North County and the region, as well as the CCE staff. Among other things, plans included setting up and equipping a "forward command post" inside a secure brick building in Jennings where steel plates were placed across the structure's front wall to provide a bullet-resistant environment.

CCE personnel transferred gear from the agency's mobile communications command vehicle and installed it and other needed equipment to make the Jennings location operational.

CCE employees and additional personnel obtained through the Missouri Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce (MoTERT) worked 12-hour shifts during the November unrest to handle the higher 911 call volume and to staff the Jennings location.

Turner said CCE's computer-aided dispatching software worked with no reported problems. A review of the center's recording equipment also showed no calls were missed and no service was denied during the unrest, he added.

In addition, sleeping accommodations, meal arrangements and training were arranged for MoTERT dispatchers.

Turners report was greeted with accolades from the board and applause from audience members at the meeting. The board unanimously approved a motion to draft and frame a resolution of commendation to the CCE staff.

Jane Cunningham, a director representing the Monarch Fire Protection District on the CCE board, said she hopes a local restaurant or caterer will volunteer to provide a meal event as a reward to the dispatch center's personnel.

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CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911 DISPATCH CENTER HIT WITH LAWSUIT

November 17, 2014 - West Newsmagazine By: Jim Erickson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - A consultant, whose agreement with Central County Emergency 911 was terminated more than a year ago, has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was the target of libelous statements and breach of contract.

Specifically named in the lawsuit filed by Colleen Dealey are Timothy Flora and other members of the CCE Board of Directors as well as Mike Turner, the dispatch center's executive director. Dealey is seeking $40,800, costs, attorney fees and other relief on each of the action's three counts and punitive damages from Flora, Turner and CCE on two of the counts involving libel and conspiracy to commit libel.

The lawsuit recounts Dealey's work with the dispatch center beginning in October 2012 when she was hired to provide technical expertise as CCE expanded its operations. The first contract was extended twice, the second time in June 2013 for an additional six months. However, the CCE board terminated Dealey's consulting contract just three months later.

The termination came after a number of events described in the lawsuit including:

- Flora's efforts to provide information to the board suggesting that Dealey hadn't disclosed a conflict of interest from her ownership of a software development company with Ernie Rhodes, chief of the West County EMS and Fire Protection District.According to the lawsuit, Flora also accused Dealey of receiving kickbacks from CCE vendors through the software company and for billing CCE for more than her contract specified.

- Flora's asking for and then receiving a forensic copy of the hard drive from Dealey's laptop computer. The copy included not only Dealey's billing records and various reports but also confidential medical and other personal information from EMS calls handled by the various agencies dispatched by CCE.

- The discovery that a person employed at the center during Dealey's tenure used CCE facilities to host websites with adult content and the failure of Turner to inform the CCE board on a timely basis, even though Dealey says she advised him to do so.

- Dealey and Turner differing on a number of issues, including lack of accountability and network security, overspending on the expansion effort and Turner's alleged inability to provide the CCE board with accurate information on important matters.

Asked about the lawsuit's allegations, Turner declined to comment, but Flora issued a statement saying: "Ms. Dealey's lawsuit is totally without merit. She is asking (CCE) to pay her for work she never performed. Right now she is hoping that the CCE board of directors will choose to pay her to avoid the costs of litigation. If the board declines to pay her, we expect her to withdraw her claims. We plan to file a counterclaim against Ms. Dealey, and I fully expect that she will dismiss her claims before she has to testify under oath."

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DISPATCH CENTER CALL VOLUME REFLECTS FERGUSON AREA UNREST

November 28, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network By: Jim Erickson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Emergency 911 calls to law enforcement spiked in the hours after the announcement the St. Louis County grand jury was not going to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on any charges related to the August shooting death of Michael Brown. But the violence and mayhem that followed also meant that calls for fire and emergency medical services increased, according to records from the Central County Emergency dispatch center in Ellisville.

From 8 p.m. until midnight on Monday, Nov. 24, in the immediate aftermath of the announcement about the grand jury's conclusions, CCE received 91 emergency calls, most involving reports of fires in the Ferguson area. The call volume represented a 65 percent increase compared to the same period a week earlier.

And while Tuesday night was calmer than the night before, Central County still logged 67 calls during the 8 p.m. to midnight period, compared with 52 on the same night a week ago.

Mike Turner, CCE's executive director, said the dispatch center had additional dispatchers on duty to handle the higher call volume.

"We weren't sure what to expect so we simply tried to make sure we were prepared," he stated.

Mutual aid agreements meant that firefighters from other departments, including those in West County, also were on call to assist in battling fire in the Ferguson area.

"That's the way it always is when any department needs help," Turner said.

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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 PREPARES TO HANDLE POSSIBLE CIVIL UNREST CALLS

November 24, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network By: Jim Erickson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - The Central County Emergency 911 Board of Directors has approved two actions designed to deal with the possible influx of calls stemming from any impending civil unrest or other emergencies.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the board gave unanimous approval to a memorandum of understanding establishing procedures on how CCE can call on the Missouri Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce (MoTERT) for help if any "natural or man-made" situations arise. The agreement enables CCE to ask for help from other MoTERT-affiliated dispatch centers if call volume increases beyond CCE's ability to handle it.

The board also has approved the hiring of part-time employees up to a maximum of 30 hours per week during the next 60 days if needed to cope with possible emergencies stemming from the county's grand jury decision on the Michael Brown shooting case.

The length of time needed to get additional people to the Ellisville-based CCE dispatch center and the possibility not enough qualified personnel will be available on short notice led Director Jane Cunningham, who represents the Monarch Fire Protection District on the CCE board, to ask for reconsideration of an earlier decision prohibiting the hiring of part-time employees.

That issue was discussed in a closed session of the CCE board last month but a motion to authorize hiring part-time employees failed to gain the required majority.

At the November meeting, Cunningham argued the board needs to do everything possible to ensure public safety. However, the motion again failed, this time on a 3-3 tie vote. Board chairman David Casey and vice chairman Tim Flora joined Cunningham in favoring the move, but directors Tom Carter, David Cobb and Ken Block opposed it.

Carter said he isn't sure part-time personnel are needed and Cobb agreed, adding there had been no new information to change his mind on the issue since the previous meeting. However, there was consensus to discuss the matter again in closed session.

Asked if the policy of hiring part-time personnel generally, as opposed to hiring specific individuals, qualified as a topic that could be discussed in closed session, Rob Schultz, CCE legal counsel, said it did because of the issue's potential impact on the dispatch center's union contract with other employees.

When the board completed its closed-door meeting and returned to open session, Schultz reported that directors had voted unanimously to approve the hiring of part-time employees up to a maximum of 30 hours per week during the next 60 days.

The apparent difference in the board's voting was because the latest action limits the part-time hiring both in terms of hours allowed per employee and the 60-day time frame. The board will reconsider the latter provision if necessary.

Mike Turner, CCE's executive director, assured the board and others at the meeting that plans are in place to handle any emergency situation that might arise. Part-time employees that may be hired will be drawn from a pool of former personnel who know the center's equipment and procedures. As a result, little or no additional training will be needed, he said.

CCE receives 911 calls for fire and emergency medical services from most of St. Louis County and dispatches equipment and personnel where needed

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DEBATE CONTINUES ON DISPATCH CENTER'S FUTURE AFTER CONTENTIOUS YEAR

October 27, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network By: Jim Erickson

ELLISVILLE - It has been just over a year since Central County Emergency 911 expanded its Ellisville dispatching facility to handle dispatch services for former users of North Central Fire Alarm last October and South County Fire Alarm last July - and what a year it has been.

The 2013 expansion was to handle fire and emergency medical calls from two dispatch centers in north and south county - operations that closed due to financial problems. The sudden growth occurred under major time pressures that magnified past differences and split the center's board, whose members represent the six first responder agencies, primarily in West County, that own CCE.

In rapid order, as 2013 ended and 2014 began:

- Three CCE owners - the Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights and West County Fire Protection Districts -told the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission they were interested in having their dispatch services handled by the county's new communications center. Subsequent resolutions from all three warned they would withdraw from CCE if the center's internal differences weren't resolved.

- In apparent response, Metro West FPD announced its intention to withdraw as a CCE owner and become simply a user of its services. (Metro West has since withdrawn that plan.)

- The ECC tabled a nearly $1 million grant request from CCE to offset its expansion costs.

- The ECC said it will equip and staff its new center to handle fire and emergency medical calls in addition to 911 calls for law enforcement.

Fast forward to late this summer when the CCE board unanimously agreed to negotiate with county officials on a possible consolidation of the emergency call handling function. The action quickly was interpreted as meaning a sale of CCE was imminent. But a major group from CCE now is asking for a slower, more analytical approach for any decision that would close the center.

Chiefs of seven of the eight South County agencies that joined CCE last year have signed two letters with that request. Chiefs from Metro West and the Monarch FPD also signed the second letter, which was a major item of discussion at a special meeting Oct. 16 at the dispatch center's Ellisville headquarters.

Among other things, the chiefs said an analysis shows the county center on average takes much longer to handle emergency calls than CCE personnel. Resulting delays in dispatching first responders, as well as uncertainty about fees the county will charge for its services, are among the reasons why CCE should continue to operate until those and other issues are resolved, the chiefs said.

County officials have said the new dispatch center can and will meet the service level CCE provides and at a reasonable cost. That cost will depend on the number of agencies choosing the county for dispatch services, but no one now knows how many will do so.

Monarch Director Jane Cunningham, who chaired the Oct. 16 meeting, identified what she described as the "two elephants in the room": How to find out if the county can provide service equal to or better than CCE and how its user-owners will vote when it comes to deciding CCE's ultimate fate.

Theoretically, she said, the three districts that already have expressed interest in having the county provide their dispatching could simply make that move when the new center is ready to provide those services. However, with the Meramec Ambulance District's withdrawal as a CCE owner Jan 1 due to budgetary reasons, the three also could opt to use their majority position on the resulting five-member board to close CCE, Cunningham theorized. That action effectively would force all of the Ellisville center's 34 current users to the county as their dispatch provider.

The three districts interested in moving to the county center have cited governance issues and other internal disputes on the CCE board as major factors influencing their decision. But the nine chiefs who signed the most recent letter said they are willing to work with the board to address those issues, as well as any operational and ownership questions, "in order to facilitate the continuance of CCE."

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CENTRAL COUNTY VS. ST. LOUIS COUNTY: FUTURE OF FIRE, EMERGENCY MEDICAL DISPATCHING STILL UNSETTLED


St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center

October 15, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network By: Jim Erickson

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Some Central County Emergency 911 owners may be ready to have their dispatching services provided by the new St. Louis County Emergency Operations Center; however, a core group of users isn't sure the county option is a good one.

At the same time, CCE's employees also don't support the idea and warn that concerns about losing their jobs already have led to resignations - whose collective impact could affect the quality of service the Ellisville-based dispatch center provides.

In a letter to the CCE Board of Directors, chiefs from six fire protection districts "formerly served by South County Fire Alarm" along with the chief from the Crestwood Fire Department asked the board to reconsider any potential sale or merger that would join CCE with the county operation.

During the meeting, Brian Hendricks, chief of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, said word about what he described as "the inevitable shutdown of CCE" is "quite disturbing."

Conceding that joining the two dispatch centers could make sense and be in the interest of taxpayers, Hendricks said the reality now is that he and others have "no idea what we're going to get" in terms of a cost structure, what computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software will be used and what response times will be for calls involving fires and emergency medical services.

The chiefs' letter noted that an analysis of fire and EMS calls handled by CCE, and police-related emergencies going through the St. Louis County dispatch center revealed a major difference in the time required to process the 911 calls and send first responders to the scene. While CCE handles calls in 34 seconds or less 80 percent of the time, the comparable time for the county operation is 137 seconds, the letter stated.

"The gap between these call processing times" one minute and 43 seconds - is very significant," resulting in increased fire losses, delays in emergency medical care and ratings that affect fire insurance costs for property owners, the chiefs said.

Capt. Steve Sack, who heads the county communications center, acknowledged that police dispatching differs from that involving fire and EMS calls. However, he said the county is willing to meet whatever standards apply to handling the latter.

Control over tax dollars that fire protection districts collect and forward to CCE to pay for dispatching operations is another concern.

"If other areas of the county government are in need of funding, we fear that a situation similar to the way the cities were forced to pool sales tax money could conceivably develop," the chiefs' letter stated.

Les Crews, chief of the St. Clair Fire Protection District, added that he is concerned where he will go for dispatch services if CCE and the county center combine. Now served by CCE, the St. Clair district is based in Franklin County.

Greg Brown, head of the Eureka Fire Protection District and a member of the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission (ECC), which has overseen construction of the new emergency operations center, was the only chief from the former South County group who did not sign the letter.

Subsequent discussion noted county personnel recently had met with a number of CCE chiefs to demonstrate the new center's dispatching capabilities. Crews noted the CAD software package the center is using is one CCE had tried in the past and discarded as inadequate.

Returning to the open meeting after a lengthy closed session, the CCE board heard the South County chiefs say they would be willing to pay a higher price for dispatching services if doing so would keep CCE open.

In a letter to the board also read during the reconvened open session, long-time CCE employee Sheryl Hauk reviewed the efforts she and her colleagues had made to expand the operation to handle the added work load first from South County and a few months later from the North Central County Fire Alarm center.

Both the South County and North County dispatch centers encountered financial problems and had to close their doors last year. With the county dispatch center not yet complete, agencies served by both centers opted to have CCE provide their dispatching services.

CCE invested heavily and took on debt to finance equipment, communication links and other steps needed to handle the increased emergency call volume from the other two centers, anticipating that a major portion of the costs would be reimbursed by the ECC. However, the commission has tabled CCE's reimbursement application, saying the request failed to meet requirements for the funding.

Hauk questioned why the CCE board approved the expense and effort for the expansion.

"Why didn't you just keep all three alarm centers open until (the new St. Louis County center) was ready? Was it to make Central County not financially stable as an organization so then you would have an excuse to sell us to (the county)?" she asked.

Hauk said six dispatchers have resigned from CCE in recent months due to uncertainties about the center's future and their jobs.

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LADUE TO TURN OVER SOME EMERGENCY DISPATCHING

September 16, 2014 - St. Louis Post Dispatch

LADUE - The Ladue City Council voted Monday to approve setting up a contract with Central County Emergency 911 to take over fire and emergency medical dispatching.

Police dispatching will continue to be handled by the city's dispatchers.

Fire Chief John Bailot (photo) told the council the action is estimated to save the city almost $1 million over the next 10 years, in avoiding the need to buy more equipment and hire more dispatchers. The cost for the service is estimated at 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Bailot said the city is now negotiating when the contract will start.

"With St. Louis County's new radio communications system starting up in December (allowing all county and municipal emergency response agencies to be able to communicate on the same frequency), Police Chief Rich Wooten and I feel there's no way our current dispatchers will be able to handle the traffic," Bailot said.

Central County Emergency 911 provides fire and emergency medical dispatching services for western St. Louis County and portions of Franklin County.

Bailot said the city needs to be able to provide pre-EMS responder-arrival emergency care instructions through dispatchers, something the city isn't able to provide now.

William Francis Jr., chair of the city's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, said his board supported the plan, adding "the most compelling reasons are to enhance the safety of firefighters and provide enhanced medical response for citizens."

Councilman Charles Hiemenz questioned the potential cost, based on assessed valuation which he called high for Ladue.

"I would prefer to see our cost based on the number of calls we have," he said.

Bailot insisted he'd appealed to the Central County board unsuccessfully for that method of assessment.

"They recently took in the (former) South County and North County dispatching agencies' cities with a 3.5 cent contract, and they won�t let Ladue come in at a lower rate than those cities," he said.

"However, I understand that, if St. Louis County fire and police dispatching gets up and running or if they purchase Central County, St. Louis County is looking at a per-call cost model," he said.

Wooten said that, even in contracting with Central County, the city will staff its dispatch center - now including a total of five communications officers - as it always has.

"Currently, their workload is about 75 percent police operations," he said.

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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 INVESTIGATES FEE SCHEDULE CHANGE FOR DISPATCH SERVICES

June 3, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - The Central County Emergency 911 Board of Directors has approved a review of projected income and expenses to see if it is possible to lower the amount its owner-users that are assessed for dispatch services.

Historically, the six fire and emergency medical service districts that own CCE have paid a higher amount than districts that contract for dispatch services but have no ownership interest. Owner-users levy a tax of 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation on real and personal property in their respective areas; then pass through the funds collected to CCE. Most of the operations that only contract for CCE dispatching services have a tax levy of 3.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

A resolution on the issue originally came before the CCE board last year but action on it was delayed as CCE focused on a major expansion effort.

Tim Flora, who represents the Metro West Fire Protection District on the board, raised the issue again when directors met May 15 and the decision to move ahead with the analysis received unanimous approval.

As part of the resolution, the board asked CCE Executive Director Mike Turner and the center's accounting firm of Berman Schraier & Co. to look at projected income and expenses for the rest of 2014 and into next year to see if the 2015 budget can incorporate the reduced rate.

Two of CCE's owner-users - Metro West and the Meramec Ambulance District - already have requested that their status be changed to contract-users. Three others - Maryland Heights, Creve Coeur and West County fire protection districts - have said they may choose to have their dispatching services provided by the new St. Louis County emergency communications center now nearing completion in West County.

Monarch Fire Protection District is CCE's sixth owner-user. All have a seat on the dispatch center's six-member board.

Looming large in the analysis will be CCE's debt, in the form of a bank line of credit that the dispatch center took on last year to help pay for two major expansion programs. CCE had expected to receive reimbursement from the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission for 70 percent, or almost $1 million, of the $1.4 million spent on the expansion. However, the ECC tabled CCE's grant application because it failed to show the savings necessary to justify the money requested.

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EMERGENCY DISPATCHING SERVICES CONTINUE TO BE TOPIC OF DISCUSSION ACROSS ST. LOUIS COUNTY

March 25, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network

ST. LOUIS - If it weren't for the fact that lives, as well as tax dollars, are involved, the ongoing saga of what the fate of Central County Emergency 911 will be could be likened to a soap opera. Its storyline certainly has enough twists and turns.

The latest development was a 3-3 vote and therefore the defeat of a resolution that the CCE board form a special committee to consider a business relationship on dispatching services with the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission.

The decision was one of number of votes taken during a more than three-hour, closed-door session at a March 12 special board meeting. In a brief question-answer session after that and other decisions were announced, several board members from both the yea and nay sides of the resolution emphasized that CCE employees are doing an exceptional job.

At an earlier meeting, employees had expressed concerns about their jobs due to questions and issues being raised about the dispatch center's future. CCE receives 911 calls for fire and emergency medical help for most of St. Louis County and parts of adjoining counties. It then dispatches personnel and equipment from the fire and ambulance operations that use its services.

During the past 15 months, the Ellisville-based operation has spent heavily to add equipment, communication links and personnel to handle dispatching duties formerly provided by financially troubled centers in the north and south county areas - an expansion projected to quadruple CCE's emergency call volume.

Meanwhile, the county ECC has been continuing work on what's now a nearly complete communications center (above) in Ohlendorf Park West, on Hanna Road south of Big Bend Road in West County. Although intended primarily for handling police-related 911 calls and with county and ECC officials earlier stating no interest in getting into the fire and emergency medical dispatching business, that direction now appears to be changing.

Garry Earls, St. Louis County's chief operating officer and a member of the ECC, recently said that sooner or later the new operation will have a fire and EMS dispatching capability. There are other small dispatch operations in the multi-county, bi-state area the ECC covers that are likely to turn to the ECC facility in order to provide a higher quality service, he explained.

"But we're not marketing that (fire and EMS dispatching) service now and we don't want to put anyone out of business," Earls affirmed.

Regardless, three CCE user-owners - the Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights and West County EMS and fire protection districts - have approved resolutions stating their intent to consider having dispatch services provided by the new ECC operation.

The resolutions also say the districts' severance with CCE hinges on whether differences between its user-owners can be resolved. At various times, CCE governance and management issues have been cited as reasons for the discord.

Two other CCE user-owners - Metro West Fire Protection District and Meramec Ambulance District - also have asked to withdraw their ownership status, but have indicated no plans to seek dispatching services elsewhere.

David Casey and Tim Flora, who represent Meramec and Metro West, respectively, on the CCE board joined with joined with Jane Cunningham, who represents the Monarch Fire Protection District, in opposing the resolution calling for the special committee. Favoring the motion were David Cobb, Tom Carter and Cathy Keeler, who represent West County, Maryland Heights and Creve Coeur on the board.

Earls said the county has made no proposals to CCE.

"Right now, we're just sitting and waiting to see what may happen," he said. However, according to wording in the defeated resolution, ECC representatives approached CCE about forming a committee to consider a business relationship for dispatching services. The resolution does not identify the individuals involved.

While the ECC and St. Louis County work closely together and Earls' responsibilities place him in both camps, the commission is a separate entity chaired by retired Florissant Police Chief Bill Karabas. Two of the seven ECC members are Jack Trout and Greg Brown, chiefs of the Frontenac Fire Department and Eureka Fire Protection District, respectively. Both the Frontenac and Eureka operations use CCE's dispatching services.

Although the resolution failed, several CCE board members, including Casey and Cunningham who opposed it, stated their willingness to consider any formal proposal the county and/or the ECC might want to present.

Cunningham expressed a similar sentiment in remarks she made to the St. Louis County Council the day before the CCE board meeting. However, she also questioned why "heavy pressure" was being placed on CCE to adopt the resolution and said there was no reason for the ECC to duplicate fire and emergency medical dispatching services that the Ellisville center already is providing and "which is working marvelously well."

She also questioned any suggestion that the CCE should be closed and used only as a backup. The ECC facility is "mainly above ground in tornado alley" while the Central County operation is underground and built to withstand the most severe tornados, she observed.

Cunningham called for an investigation into why the CCE board was being pressured to approve the resolution before the upcoming elections when the county executive position will be on the ballot.

In remarks before the CCE board meeting, West County's Cobb said he didn't believe the resolution was designed to force anything. Instead, he interpreted it as calling for a consensus on the idea of discussing various options for CCE's future.

"Any decision beyond that would be premature at this point," Cobb observed. "We're simply at the information-gathering stage. And I think we (the CCE board) owe it to the taxpayers and the fire and ambulance operations we serve to look at all the facts and consider all the options before we make any kind of ultimate decision."

At the board meeting, Cobb also agreed that CCE employees are doing a good job. But he advised against adopting a view that the operation is "the best."

"When any business adopts the attitude that it's the best, it is less likely to look for ways to improve. And there always will be ways to improve," he observed.

Other actions taken during the closed meeting and announced when the public session resumed involved a variety of hiring and vendor contract issues. One of those, approved on a unanimous vote, called for hiring four additional dispatchers to replace two persons who recently resigned and two others to bring staffing up to an industry-recommended level.

The staffing issue had been debated and tabled earlier due to budget concerns and questions about the need for more personnel.

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CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY BOARD STALLS ON TALKS WITH COUNTY

March 14, 2014 - St. Louis Post Dispatch

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - The board governing the Central County Emergency 911 system Wednesday failed to reach a consensus on whether to enter into negotiations with St. Louis County over a possible consolidation of emergency dispatch services.

The measure failed to move ahead after the board deadlocked 3-3 on a proposal to begin negotiations with the county, according to a statement issued by Monarch Fire Protection District Director Jane Cunningham.

The Monarch, Metro-West, Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights West County and Meramec ambulance and fire districts own the Central County system.

Central County in turn dispatches calls for 34 emergency services districts across the county.

The Central County board cannot take action without a majority of votes from representatives of the six owner members.

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JANE CUNNIGHAM QUESTIONS ST. LOUIS COUNTY COUNCIL ABOUT FUTURE ROLE OF CENTRAL COUNTY 911

March 13, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - If it weren't for the fact that lives, as well as tax dollars, are involved, the ongoing saga of what the fate of Central County Emergency 911 will be could be likened to a soap opera. Certainly the storyline has sufficient twists and turns.

The latest development had Jane Cunningham, who represents Central County user-owner Monarch Fire Protection District on the CCE board, questioning the St. Louis County Council March 11 about what she described as a "forced agreement to talk" with the county about CCE's future.

CCE receives 911 calls for fire and emergency medical situations for most of St. Louis County and parts of adjoining counties. It then dispatches personnel and equipment from the fire and ambulance operations that use its services.

The next turn could come at the CCE board meeting on March 12 when a resolution authorizing the dispatch center to set up a special committee to discuss the merits of any future business relationship with St. Louis County likely will be discussed.

David Cobb, who represents West County EMS and Fire Protection District on the CCE board, said his understanding of the resolution is that it is not designed to force anything. Instead, he interprets it as calling for a consensus to establish a special committee to discuss various options for CCE's future.

"Any decision beyond that would be premature at this point," Cobb observed. "We're simply at the information-gathering stage. And I think we (the CCE board) owe it to the taxpayers and the fire and ambulance operations we serve to look at all the facts and consider all the options before we make any kind of ultimate decision."

But Cunningham had a different view of where things are headed, noting in her remarks to the county council that "the suggestion is being made to close (Central County) and use it only as a backup if needed, not as the dispatch center which is working marvelously well".

"When one tries to figure out who is driving the pressure, the parties involved point fingers at each other," Cunningham said. "Something doesn't pass the sniff test when there is such an effort to fix something that no one says is broken."

However, three of CCE's user-owners - West County along with the Creve Coeur and Maryland Heights fire protection districts - have approved resolutions stating the intent to consider having their dispatch services provided by the new St. Louis County Emergency Communications Center now nearing completion in Ohlendorf Park West off Hanna Road south of Big Bend. The resolutions also say the districts' severance with CCE hinges on whether the differences between its user-owners can be resolved.

At various times, CCE governance and management issues have been cited as reasons for the discord.

Two other CCE user-owners - Metro West Fire Protection District and Meramec Ambulance District - also have asked to withdraw their ownership status, but they have indicated no plans to seek dispatching services elsewhere.

Garry Earls, St. Louis County's chief operating officer and a member of the Emergency Communications Commission in charge of building the new center, said that sooner or later that operation will have fire and EMS dispatching capability. Aside from the interest expressed by the three CCE user-owners, there are other small dispatch operations in the multi-county area the ECC covers that are likely to turn to the new facility in order to provide a higher quality service.

Adding a full-time staff member to coordinate setting up that fire and EMS dispatching capability has been authorized, Earls said, adding that he didn't know if that hiring has taken place.

"But we're not marketing that (fire and EMS dispatching) service now and we don't want to put anyone out of business," Earls affirmed.

The county has made no proposals to CCE, he said.

"Right now, we're just sitting and waiting to see what may happen," he said.

Cunningham, who is weighing whether to file as a candidate for county executive, pointed to the effort and taxpayer dollars CCE has invested for expansion to handle dispatching duties formerly provided by financially troubled centers in the north and south county areas. She also noted that CCE's operation is below ground and built to withstand the most severe tornados, while the new county facility is mainly above ground.

"Someone needs to investigate why - there is so much pressure to get this (a CCE-St. Louis County agreement) done before the elections for county executive and how much it will cost taxpayers for service they already have," she said.

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MONARCH FIRE DISTRICT DIRECTOR WARY OF DISPATCH SERVICES TALKS WITH ST. LOUIS COUNTY

March 12, 2014 - St. Louis Post Dispatch

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - The Central County Emergency 911 board could decide today on whether to begin talks with the potential to cede some or all of the services provided by the independent emergency communications unit to the upgraded St. Louis County dispatch system.

Monarch Fire Protection District Director Jane Cunningham said it is unclear which way the Central County board will vote.

Cunningham revealed in remarks to the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday evening that a rift has split the districts that govern Central County Emergency.

Central County dispatches calls for 34 countywide fire and ambulance districts.

A board comprising representatives from six districts oversees its business operations.

"For some unexplained reasons, there has been heavy pressure on the Central County board to adopt a strange resolution agreeing to go into talks with the county about the county providing the same services as Central County," Cunningham told the council.

A former state senator, Cunningham is considering a bid for county executive on the Republican ticket.

County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls acknowledged the county has been approached about integrating some Central County dispatch services with the county's new state-of-the-art emergency communications center.

The outpost, under construction in? West County, is slated to become operational this summer. Earls said discussions with the county were initiated by Central County board members who expressed displeasure over the "governance" of the collective.

The disgruntled board members singled out issues with the Monarch Board in particular, Earls added.

Fire and/or ambulance districts serving Metro West, Creve Coeur, West County, Maryland Heights and Meramec oversee Central County affairs.

Those districts in turn provide dispatches for 34 other ambulance and fire districts across the county.

"We will work with anyone who wants to work with St. Louis County," said County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Cunningham also said she is not averse to discussing the possibility of a shared service arrangement with the county.

"I'm open to talking about anything," she said after the meeting. "But it's moving at a high-pressure pace that just doesn't feel right."

The Central County board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m.

Cunningham said the vote will be held in closed session but will be announced publicly after the meeting.

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ACTION BY DISPATCHER SENDS FIRE CREWS TO WRONG HOME, SPARKS DEBATE AT CCE

February 14, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Fire chiefs whose personnel and equipment are dispatched by Central County Emergency 911 have made two demands from the Ellisville-based center in the wake of a recent incident that had fire trucks going to the wrong location in response to a call reporting a house fire.

What led to the discussion at a meeting of CCE's operating committee was a Feb. 7 incident that had first responders going to a home in Ferguson that had the same street number and name as one in Florissant where the fire actually was.

"My number one concern is that this never happens again," said Ken Black, chief of the Creve Coeur Fire Protection District. He added that he wanted to know what steps the dispatch center ultimately takes to guard against similar incidents in the future.

Other fire chiefs attending the meeting agreed with Black and said their expectation was that they be told when serious mistakes occur so they can respond accurately to their local board of directors. Consensus was that such information needs to come quickly, even if at first it's not entirely complete.

Christine Neal, who heads the Meramec Ambulance District and chairs the CCE operating committee, acknowledged the comments but noted that CCE management had quickly notified her and the chairman of the CCE board after the mistake occurred.

Such notifications have been CCE's practice in the past, she said, but that procedure may need to be reviewed to address the needs of an organization that has become much larger.

Mike Turner, CCE's executive director, said he is gathering information on what happened to determine what remedial steps to take and that he will provide a full report on his findings and actions.

According to Turner's description of the incident, when the call came in and the address was entered into the system, two locations came up on the monitor linked to the center's computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. The dispatcher concluded the first one listed was correct but apparently didn't ask for additional details - the city where the fire was and/or the nearest major crossstreet - that could have pinpointed which address was the right one.

Rob Schultz, the center's legal counsel, noted that sometimes a caller may not be able to provide such information, in which case the accepted practice is to dispatch emergency crews to both locations.

Comments during the meeting indicated other communications gaps between CCE and the larger number of districts and departments now using its services. The lack of monthly reports on the number and type of emergency calls dispatched to each user and budget-related information were among the problems cited.

The CCE board has approved a 2014 budget, but in light of an anticipated reduction in revenue has placed a hold on major new expenditures, including additions to the center's staff. A key contributor to the revenue shortfall has been the tabling of a grant request submitted to the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission for reimbursement of expenditures related to the center's expansion.

Operating committee members debated a resolution to the CCE board recommending the staff additions be made as quickly as possible to maintain the center's level of service. The resolution failed when a committee majority argued the decision on personnel additions was one in the board's hands.

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DUPLICATE ADDRESSES ACROSS ST. LOUIS REGION REVEAL CONSTANT RISKS FOR 911 DISPATCHERS

February 12, 2014 - St. Louis Post Dispatch

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - Days after a dispatcher mistakenly sent firefighters to a Ferguson house instead of a Florissant home that was burning, the head of Central County Emergency 911 is promising policy changes aimed at preventing more costly errors.

About 7:45 a.m. Friday, a homeowner called 911 from a cellphone to report a fire at 5 Elizabeth Court in Florissant. About five minutes later, firetrucks and ambulances arrived at a Ferguson house with the same street number and name, but about five miles away in a neighboring fire district.

After the homeowner called again 10 minutes later, the dispatcher sent help to the correct house, and firefighters put out the fire in a few minutes.

The veteran dispatcher who made the mistake "feels terrible," said Michael Turner, director of Central County Emergency 911. It was unclear Tuesday whether the dispatcher would face discipline.

GPS data tracking the homeowner's cellphone was not precise, and the dispatcher forgot to ask the caller to identify the nearest cross street or the city the caller was in, Turner said.

The error delayed putting out a blaze that caused an estimated $100,000 in damage for homeowners Timothy and Gina Juch. It also exposes weaknesses in St. Louis County's largest fire dispatching center that its leader is pledging to fix.

No one was injured in the fire. Outgoing Florissant Valley Fire Chief Robert Corey said it appears to have been caused by an overheated hair dryer used to thaw frozen pipes. Flames spread into the attic, destroying parts of the upstairs and roof.

Turner acknowledged the dispatcher erred and said his staff have, so far, found 125 to 150 streets in Central County's coverage area that share the same name and street numbers.

Turner said dispatchers will receive additional training and that duplicate addresses will be flagged in the system so extra steps are taken to verify locations.

"These duplicate addresses are all over," he said.

Central County 911 dispatches fire and ambulance service for 34 fire and EMS agencies in St. Louis County, or more than 80 percent of the county, Turner said. It quadrupled the number of agencies it serves in the last year, taking over service in South County in July and in North County in November.

Duplicate addresses aren't unique to St. Louis County, though.

"You can almost bet that in every city, there's a Main Street, there's a First Street or a Second Street," said Bill Gamblin, executive director of St. Clair County 911.

In Madison County, dispatchers are urged to try to keep 911 callers on the phone as long as possible, to collect additional information while sending help, said Terry McFarland, the 911 director.

Officials in St. Clair, Jefferson and St. Charles counties said dispatchers see alerts on their computer screens when an emergency is reported at an address with a duplicate, officials said.

"With a landline call, it's very easy to do," Gamblin said. "With a cellphone, you have to use the GPS technology and be very, very careful to make sure the call plots in the right area."

Bob Watts, director of the St. Charles County Department of Dispatch and Alarm, said the county has about 40 duplicate addresses but that problems have been rare.

"You just have to ask enough questions to make sure they're going to the right spot," he said.

Travis Williams, Jefferson County's 911 chief, said the dispatch center has cut down on duplicates by serving as the county's addressing authority for more than a decade. But common addresses still exist.

"Accuracy is the No. 1 job here," he said. "You don't want to send a million dollars worth of firetrucks in the wrong direction."

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MORE SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE AFTER LOCAL FIREFIGHTERS SENT TO WRONG ADDRESS

February 11, 2014 - KMOV

- A 9-1-1 dispatcher uttered an expletive after realizing her mistake. She sent firefighters to the right address, but the wrong town. Now, a Florissant family is looking for answers.

Their home was severely damaged on Friday after an error was made by a dispatcher at Central County Emergency 9-1-1. That agency dispatches for 34 fire and EMT organizations in Jefferson, Franklin and St. Louis Counties.

"It comes down to a veteran dispatcher who simply made a mistake," said Director Mike Turner.

He told New 4, the dispatcher did not follow policy when it comes to duplicate addresses.

There are thousands of duplicates throughout the counties they serve. Still errors like this, Turner said, are very rare.

They'll now be putting additional safeguards in place to make sure something it doesn't happen again.

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OFFICIAL TALKS ABOUT 911 DISPATCHER'S ADDRESS MIX-UP

February 8, 2014 - KSDK

FLORISSANT - The home that once stood at 5 Elizabeth Court is just a shell. The person who lived there says this likely would not have been the outcome if dispatchers sent firefighters to the right city.

"This is a veteran dispatcher who - with years of service, made a mistake," Michael Turner, the executive director of Central County Emergency 911, said.

It was a costly mistake that he says rarely happens.

"We dispatch over 125,000 calls a year, and 99.9 percent are accurate and done very efficiently," he said.

But on Friday, when Tim Juck reported that his Florissant home was on fire, crews were sent to the same address - five miles away in Ferguson.

"We quickly learned and corrected the address to Florissant," Turner said. "This took a total delay of about 10 minutes."

Before North Central Fire joined Central County Emergency 911 in November, dispatchers were covering these fire districts in the north county area. Turner says all dispatchers and supervisors are trained to handle identical addresses, but now they'll be trained once again.

"We are also looking at our capping system to flag and alert the dispatchers when any address duplicates anywhere in St. Louis County," he said.

Juck says he accepts Turner's apology.

There's no word yet on whether the dispatcher will face any disciplinary action.

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ADDITIONAL FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICTS VOTE TO LEAVE CENTRAL COUNTY EMERGENCY 911

January 27, 2014 - Newsmagazine Network

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - The internal dissension among user-owners of Central County Emergency 911 has become more acute with virtually identical resolutions approved by three fire protection districts in that group. But the resolutions injected a new twist into the already complex array of factors that could affect the dispatch center's future.

Resolutions approved unanimously by the boards of West County EMS, Creve Coeur and Maryland Heights fire protection districts declare their intent to withdraw from CCE, both as owners and users. The resolutions also say that the districts are looking at having their dispatching services provided by the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Center now being built in Ohlendorf West Park on Hanna Road. And, in an unexpected turn, the resolutions say the county's Emergency Communications Commission (ECC) wants to explore, with other CCE user-owners, the possibility of a legal transfer of CCE's assets and functions to the commission.

Acknowledging the internal unrest at CCE, the resolutions say the severance with CCE hinges on whether the differences between its user-owners can be resolved "to the satisfaction" of each of the potentially withdrawing districts.

In an interview prior to the CCE meeting, David Cobb, the director who represents West County on the CCE board, confirmed that his district would support a move to the new county communications center "if it is in the best interest of taxpayers and if the quality of dispatching services can be maintained." However, he did not rule out the possibility of West County EMS remaining with CCE.

The resolutions were received and acknowledged at a Jan. 23 CCE board meeting and little was said about them until after the board met in executive session for more than an hour. During that time, details of the resolutions spread among a number of CCE employees attending the meeting. In an emotional discussion, Tom Carter, a CCE director representing Maryland Heights FPD, responded to employee concerns about the dispatch center's future and their jobs.

The resolutions are designed to "keep options open" and don't mean "doomsday" for the dispatch center, he said.

Sheryl Hauk, an CCE shift supervisor, said uncertainty about the center's future likely will mean some employees will start seeking employment elsewhere. With the operation already short-staffed due to two recent resignations, losing just one or two more people will mean the quality of service on emergency calls will suffer, she emphasized.

Other employee comments also challenged Carter's remarks, noting that he was saying one thing while approval of the resolutions said the opposite.

The CCE meeting followed an earlier effort by members of the CCE staff and board to present a united front supporting the nearly $1 million grant being sought from the ECC, which had been tabled in December.

The grant was the focus of discussion during the ECC's Jan. 16 meeting when CCE leaders reviewed steps taken last year to expand its dispatching facilities to handle the needs of fire and emergency medical operations served by two financially troubled dispatch facilities.

Both Cunningham and Mike Turner, CCE's executive director, emphasized that CCE's expansion efforts had benefitted both the ECC as well as county residents living in areas served by the now-closed dispatch centers. However, commission members stood by their earlier decision to table the grant application saying it failed to show the savings necessary to justify the money requested.

Commission members also reminded the CCE group that the grant request had been tabled, not denied, and that the application could be reconsidered if new information was submitted or if future ECC decisions altered its grant policy.

Asked later about the possible shift of CCE's assets and functions to the county and its new communications center, Garry Earls, St. Louis County's chief operating officer and a member of the ECC, said he has agreed to meet with a Central County group to talk about the issue but asserted that he has no preconceived notions about the outcome.

"There are many questions and issues involved and it's all very exploratory at this point," Earls said.

Cathy Keeler, the CCE board member from Creve Coeur FPD, later said the meeting with Earls likely will include attorneys representing various CCE user-owners although there has been no action by the board authorizing any group to officially represent CCE's interests.

Earls predicted the upcoming meeting won't result in any final decisions, but may serve to identify points that need to be resolved and determine if there is enough mutual interest to warrant moving forward. He noted that questions about "business aspects" rather than the quality of dispatching services CCE provides, appear to be the issue.

"In fact, anyone who has talked to me has nothing but good things to say about CCE's service," he said.

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METRO WEST EMS/FPD CANCELS OWNERSHIP IN DISPATCHING SERVICE

December 31, 2013 - Newsmagazine Network

WEST COUNTY - Actions by three local fire chiefs' Ernie Rhodes of West County EMS and Fire Protection District, Ken Black of Creve Coeur Fire Protection District and Steve Ohlswanger of Maryland Heights Fire Protection District - are being cited as the reason for a recent resolution by the Metro West Fire Protection District Board to remove the district as one of the owner-operators of Central County Emergency 911.

On Dec. 17, the Metro West board unanimously voted to move forward with becoming a contract entity.

Board Chairman Tim Flora noted in a press statement that "the Metro West board (also) voted unanimously to give CCE 911 a six-month notice (as required) to terminate the back-up site lease agreement" between the fire district and the dispatch center, "and for the CCE 911back-up site to be removed from our facility."

According to the resolution, the chiefs attendance at a St. Louis County Emergency Communications Commission meeting early in December was one of the factors that spurred the Metro West board decision.

At that meeting, the chiefs reportedly expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of service CCE was providing and said their departments wanted to receive dispatch services from the St. Louis County Emergency Communications Center now under construction in Ohlendorf West Park in Ballwin. Presumably, such a move would not occur until the end of 2014 when the new county center comes online, however, if and when such a move occurs, it would mean a substantial drop in CCE's revenue stream.

Additionally, the resolution charges that the chiefs' actions caused the commission to table a grant request to reimburse CCE for costs associated with the dispatch center's recent expansion adding to concerns over CCE's financial stability.

Despite concerns, ECC Director David Barney said the grant application was tabled because it failed to show the savings necessary to justify the money requested. He noted that the dispatch center may be eligible for a grant later, depending on how future decisions tie in with what CCE has done in its expansion moves. The commission can reimburse 70 percent of the amount another agency spends for communications equipment and capabilities if those outlays save money the ECC otherwise would have spent for the same purpose.

CCE has spent well over $1 million in preparing to handle the additional volume of 911 emergency and establishing communication links with the increased number of fire and emergency medical operations it now serves. CCE also paid a consulting firm $10,000 to prepare the grant request.

Those expenditures were made before CCE began receiving tax levy proceeds from former South County Fire Alarm and North Central Fire Alarm participants, now CCE clients, and emergency medical operations. To cover those costs, the dispatch center had to use funds from its reserves and a bank line of credit.

Also planning to withdraw immediately as a CCE owner is Meramec Ambulance District - instead choosing to contract services as a user only in order to save enough money to balance its 2014 budget.

Under the current system, CCE's user-owners levy a tax on real estate and personal property of 5 cents per $100 assessed valuation and pass those revenues through to the dispatch center to finance its operations. Users are charged a lower rate of 3.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

Taken as a whole, the situations pose serious financial and governance issues.

If three of its user-owners withdraw from CCE, while two others change their status, it is possible that CCE would be left with one current director - namely Jane Cunningham, representing the Monarch Fire Protection District.

Much of CCE's current challenges stem from decisions made and actions taken in regard to the dispatch center's expansion.

One of those decisions - to hire Coleen Dealey, of Staunton, Ill., as a consultant to advise CCE on how best to handle its expansion efforts - has resulted in accusations of inappropriate business dealings between Dealey and West County fire chief Rhodes; a June 2013 request by Rhodes that CCE Executive Director Michael Turner "be relieved of oversight of CCE IT (information technology);" a subsequent investigation by former St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Calvin, now associated with the Spencer Fain Britt & Browne law firm; a separate investigation by Flora, who in addition to serving on the Metro West and CCE boards is the president of Mid-West Protective Service; and concern over consulting charges that exceed the contracted amount.

As previously reported in West Newsmagazine, Dealey was recommended to the CCE board by Rhodes, who had worked with Dealey on major project in St. Charles. Not mentioned at the time was that Rhodes and Dealey also had formed a currently-operating company to develop disaster management software. While Rhodes did not have a vote in hiring Dealey, several board members, including Cunningham and Flora, felt strongly that their business partnership should have been disclosed at the time of the recommendation.

In June of 2013, Rhodes sent an email to members of the CCE Operating Committee (made up of chiefs from CCE owner districts) detailing a concern he had regarding CCE's computer network mapping and configuration abilities during the dispatch center's first service expansion and his discussion of this problem with Turner. He noted that a variety of issues prevented the proper transmission of data to and from first responders during a period "greater than 24 hours."

"Based on the facts, I recommend in the strongest terms that Director Turner be relieved of oversight of CCE IT as well as the current network re-addressing project," Rhodes wrote.

He recommended that Turner be replaced by "either Colleen Dealey or a fire chief to be determined for IT."

Turner's interpretation of that same conversation caused him to provide a written statement regarding the incident to the CCE board and to file a hostile work environment/harassment complaint against Rhodes.

A subsequent review by Calvin of that incident and charges of inappropriate business dealings involving Rhodes and Dealey found no basis for either complaint. However, Flora and Cunningham maintain that the investigation was not as thorough as it should have been. Both have suggested that Turner is being targeted and they are not alone in that assessment.

In a Dec. 23 letter to CCE directors on behalf of Michael Turner, CCE's executive director, St. Louis attorney Chet Pleban asked that the board "immediately take all necessary and appropriate action to stop any and all further retaliation and discrimination" aimed at Turner.

Dealey's contract with CCE was terminated on Aug. 28. However, on Sept. 26, an audit performed by CCE's accountant/audit principal disclosed an overpayment of $54,570 to Dealey for the contract period of Dec. 17, 2012 through June 17, 2013.

Dealey denies the complaint, saying the hours she worked, which exceeded the limit set in her contract, were approved by either Turner or then CCE board chairman Matt Miller. Miller, who was West County's representative on the CCE board, has since resigned from both boards and has been replaced by David Cobb.

Dealey still has not received a final check for her services. CCE has withheld payment pending Dealey's signature on an agreement not to take any future legal action against CCE and its directors. Thus far, Dealey has refused to do that.

For his part, Turner said he has received no major complaints about CCE's quality of service since the problem last June.

"Sure, there have been some issues that have come up - not a lot, just a few. Those that have come up are a normal part of what one could expect with the kind of expansion we've gone through. Even with those few problems, 99.9 percent of the emergency calls we've received have been handled perfectly," he said.

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CENTRAL COUNTY 911 WANTS TO ADD FIRE DISTRICTS

May 16, 2013 - Suburban Journal

BERKELEY - Central County Emergency 911 dispatching agency is going to be significantly expanding its area, effective July 1.

That's when various fire districts and departments in South County will be served by Central County. That area is now served by the South County Fire Alarm dispatching agency, which will be closing its doors.

Mike Turner, executive director of CCE911 at 22 Weis Ave. in Ellisville, said his agency was originally formed in 1969 and now serves the Monarch, Metro West, West County, Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights, Pacific and St. Clair fire protection districts, the Meramec Ambulance District, and the cities of Town & Country, Frontenac and Des Peres. It now covers about 600 square miles in St. Louis and Franklin counties.

The fire districts and fire departments South County Fire Alarm serves include Mehlville, Lemay, Affton, Fenton, Valley Park, Crestwood and Eureka.

North Central County Fire Alarm dispatching agency also expects to close later this year, Turner said. The agencies it serves are working to finalize contracts with CCE911 as early as late fall. Those agencies include Berkeley, Ferguson, Hazelwood and Jennings fire departments and the Black Jack, Community, Florissant Valley, Kinloch, Metro North, Mid County, Pattonville, Riverview, Robertson, Spanish Lake and West Overland fire protection districts as well as the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District and Christian Northeast Ambulance District.

Turner said both those dispatching agencies are closing due to various issues, including the costs involved with continuing to operate.

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CENTRAL COUNTY GETS SET TO ACQUIRE NORTH CENTRAL COUNTY FIRE ALARM



May 06, 2013 - News Magazine

ST. LOUIS COUNTY - In its continuing expansion, the Central County Emergency 911 Board has approved contracts to provide fire and emergency medical dispatching services to two departments now served by the North Central County Fire Alarm operation.

According to recently signed contracts, the city of Berkeley Fire Department and the Community Fire Protection District will switch to Ellisville-based Central County on Jan. 1, 2014. Berkeley and Community are the first in what is expected to be a move to Central County by most or all of the operations North Central has been serving.

Due to financial pressures, North Central has announced plans to shut down Oct. 31.

It's not clear at this point what dispatching operation will fill the two-month gap from that closing until Jan. 1 when Central County begins those services for Berkeley, Community and potentially other departments and districts from the North Central group. However, the Central County Board and staff have said they are committed to completing the change-over as quickly as possible.

The process is a complex and multifaceted one that includes ordering and installing additional computer and communications equipment, mapping addresses in the expanded area and loading that information into Central County's computerized dispatching system, as well as hiring and training additional personnel and establishing the needed communications links between the dispatching center and the new locations it will be serving.

In an earlier move also prompted by financial difficulties, South County Fire Alarm said it would halt its operations as of July 1. That decision prompted the departments and fire protection districts South County served to sign contracts for dispatching services with Central County.

Steps required for serving that territory already are well under way as the July 1 effective date for most of the South County departments and fire protection districts rapidly approaches.

At its April 29 meeting, the Central County Board renewed contracts with consultants and firms already involved in the expansion to accommodate South County operations, clearing the way for them to handle similar tasks for the growth into the North County area. In addition, the Central County Board hired RCC Consultants, a New Jersey-based firm with a St. Louis area office, to head the process of seeking a grant from St. Louis County's Emergency Communications Commission to help finance the expansion moves.

The importance of that grant became clear as the Board discussed the large cash outlays Central County already has made or has committed to while purchasing equipment and services needed for the expansion. The dispatch center will receive revenues from taxes levied for that purpose in areas served by the departments and fire protection districts joining with Central County, but that revenue flow won't begin until after they officially come on board.

Until then Central County is seeking a $3 million line of credit to ease the cash flow crunch from money being spent before tax revenue is received from the new areas.

The Board reviewed credit line proposals from two commercial banks at its April 29 meeting. However, both institutions listed the yet to be acquired St. Louis County grant as a collateral requirement for the line of credit.

Michael Turner, Central County's executive director, noted that grant funding likely will not be received until September at the earliest. Delaying cash outlays for equipment and services until a grant is received isn't practical due to Central County's need to ramp up its capabilities to serve the expanded territory.

The Board deferred action on the line of credit pending further negotiations with the banks.

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Central County 911 expanding communications

March 1, 2013 - NewsMagazine Network

CENTRAL COUNTY - The Central County Emergency 911 Board of Directors has accepted a proposal from Charter Communications to install a fiber, wide-area network communications system that will facilitate the dispatching of fire and emergency medical personnel and equipment in the Ellisville-based operation's expanding service area.

Acceptance of the Charter proposal is based on final approval of a contract covering the various provisions in the original bid. The only other company to submit a proposal was AT&T, but Central County officials determined that bid did not meet the requirements spelled out in the request.

Charter's proposal included network installation costs of $250,000 and monthly service charges of $48,780. The AT&T bid set monthly charges at $49,675 but did not spell out its installation costs.

At its Feb. 19 meeting, the Central County Board also approved hiring Network Technology Partners to provide supervision of the dispatching agency's computer-based operations for a six-week period. The action stemmed from a two-week notice given by a Central County staff member in charge of those activities that he was resigning.

In addition, the Board approved an earlier reviewed contract to provide dispatching services to the Crestwood Fire Department effective July 1. The approval leaves the Eureka Fire Protection District as the only agency served by South County Fire Alarm that hasn't signed an agreement with Central County. South County will cease operations on July 1.

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