A plea from Indianola Fire Chief Orlando Battle and Assistant Chief Bill Alford to forward the dispatching of the department’s 911 fire calls to the Indianola police dispatchers was rejected at Monday night’s Indianola Board of Aldermen’s meeting.
After a discussion that engaged several emergency personnel and several city lawmakers, Alderman Sam Brock said, “This is a bullet we need to stop shooting back and forth at each other. We had a solution. All of this stuff is geared toward the county. What’s the use in changing it? Give it back to the county. Make the modifications with the county. Lets move on.”
Mayor Steve Rosenthal concurred, and the subject was dropped without any further action.
Battle’s contention is that using the Computer-Aided Dispatch system currently used by the police operators would help them greatly in the accuracy of their reports by electronically time-stamping all of their radio transmissions and interactions with the dispatchers.
According to Battle, the E-911 dispatchers, who are located at the Sheriff’s Department and under the leadership of Sheriff James Haywood—who was present for the session—still handwrite their callout times on paper in a book.
“Who’s to say? One dispatcher might come in, lose her mind, and shred the paper and won’t nobody have the time,” Battle said.
He mentioned a number of invalid fire reports that were due to inconsistent times reported at dispatch.
At Monday’s session, Battle told the city fathers that he, Indianola Police Chief Edrick Hall and Haywood met and they are all in agreement that the police operators should be responsible for dispatching during fire calls also.
Battle said all 911 calls would still be routed through the E-911 system at the sheriff’s department, as they are now, and the E-911 operators would still issue the emergency tone to alert them, but when the calls come in, the E-911 dispatcher would re-direct to the police department.
It was the consensus of the chiefs and the sheriff that the emergency calls will have to be forwarded one way or the other anyway.
Haywood vouched for the precision of the CAD system and said Sunflower County is in the process of getting the same setup. He stated that his dispatchers have already begun the training for the new system.
With regard to making the change, Haywood said, “Indianola was the first to get it. It’s a good system, so, it’s a no brainer.” He added that the system saves lives and that's what they are there to do.
Although the emergency officials were in agreement, the comments and questions raised by the Mayor and Aldermen challenged that camaraderie.
Alderman Gary Fratesi asked if the change would require hiring a new dispatcher and Hall said it would.
“So now, every time we get a phone bill, there’s 911 money coming out of it,” he said.
Then turning his attention to Haywood, he asked, “Are y’all going to give us our share?”
Haywood deduced that two dispatchers should be able to handle the load; however, Hall said he didn’t have two operators 24-hours a day and Haywood said neither did he.
Fratesi told Haywood, “Go to the Supervisors and get what you guys need, the citizens of Indianola are citizens of Sunflower County. We pay a lot of the bills.”
Throughout the discussion, Haywood maintained the reasoning for the change was to keep down rivalries and maintain citizen safety.
Rosenthal asked how the E-911 money is distributed and Haywood explained that the money is used to buy new equipment because the $200,000 system has to be changed out every five years.
Haywood said he has also asked for two additional operators in the upcoming budget.
Battle attempted to explain how the E-911 call process works and how calls are disbursed based on another question from Rosenthal, but that only resulted in more of a mix-up involving the word time.
Alderman Ruben Woods asked what problem time-stamping was going to solve.
“It’s not going to speed up the process. It’s just showing what time the call came in. You’re going to be double dispatching,” he said.
Battle asserted that’s how the system works now.
“You’re going to forever double dispatch,” Battle explained, adding that any call going in to the sheriff’s department still has to be re-routed.
Haywood said the issue of a centralized dispatch arose years ago.
“And it was a good idea, but some of the people shot it down and this is what you have now,” he said.
Haywood said all of the cities in the county should have come together then with a central dispatch because it would have saved time and money.
“But, you’ve got to let egos go to do it, he said.”
Rosenthal then surmised that Indianola should be the hub and all of the E-911 funds be funneled here since it is the county seat.
“We’re already far and advanced, we’re already on the cutting edge of technology,” said Rosenthal. “In reality we ought to be dispatching as the county seat, for the county.”
Haywood added that he didn’t expect the county to turn over the E-911 operation to the city.
Rosenthal mentioned a grant awarded to the city that was distributed throughout the county.
“So, we actually got y’all the money to do just what you’re saying?” Rosenthal said.
Haywood asserted that it was gained through a partnership.
“It took everybody’s participation,” he said. “But we instigated it,” said Rosenthal.
Haywood reemphasized his and the chiefs’ point about citizen safety and their aim to resolve the current issue and added that he was willing to do what the chiefs wanted and stressed that the changeover is really simple. “It won’t take but five seconds,” he said.
“Well, again we want you to do what you’re suppose to do,” said Rosenthal.
“I am!” Haywood said.
Fratesi asked Haywood how long it would be before the county would have its new CAD system operational and Haywood said it should be within a few weeks.
“Well that solves the problem,” Rosenthal said.