Prince George's County firefighters troubled by new dispatch system

- Firefighters in Prince George’s County said they are troubled by a new dispatch system that is costing precious minutes in response times. In some cases, they said engines are not being dispatched at all.

But county officials dispute that claim saying the new GPS system is designed to improve response times and it is doing just that.

The new system has been up and running for five days now and there are differing views on how it is working.

Some firefighters said it is dysfunctional and it is not sending the closest units to fire and medical emergencies – a claim the systems designer said is not true.

When a fire broke out Wednesday on the top floor of an apartment building on New Hampshire Avenue in Adelphi, firefighters at the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company were not put on the call.

A new GPS system in the works for the last two years left them off the run along with fire houses in Berwyn Heights and College Park.

According to Branchville Volunteer Fire Company Deputy Chief Michael Hughes, it is a mistake that added precious minutes to the call.

"I think that it is somewhat indisputable that there was a delay,” he said.

The Branchville station is located just off University Boulevard in College Park. Hughes believes the county has been lucky so far that no one has been harmed or killed.

"It's evidenced by the fire Monday night when three companies, roughly 60 percent of what would have been a normal response to that intersection for that apartment, weren’t dispatched,” said Hughes. “How much time did it take the Montgomery County units to get there? After they checked if they were available? After they were dispatched? We already heard reports they didn't know where they were going.”

But Wayne McBride, who designed the new GPS system for the county, said the three fire companies Hughes mentioned would traditionally have been put on the call, but advances in technology revealed they would not have been the closest.

"It is a major change in the historical way of the Fire and EMS department’s operations,” said McBride. “However, it is a huge, huge gain for the citizens and residents of Prince George's County because we are providing the closest service necessary to solve that issue.”

McBride said the GPS is embedded in the radios of all of the apparatus and updates every 40 to 60 seconds giving dispatchers real-time information on where they are.

"For me to tell you that there hasn't been a single hiccup, I would not be doing justice to the project and my team,” he said. “But what I can tell you is I have not been made aware of a single response issue.”

McBride said the new system is so sophisticated that it takes into account the traffic lights, speed humps and one-way streets fire engines, trucks and ambulances would have to travel through, over and down.

But Hughes said his fire company has missed 40 calls this week it would traditionally have run and he is unconvinced it is working as designed.

"Now you have all these pieces of a puzzle that are just being bounced around the borders with no rhyme or reason,” Hughes said.

McBride said technology is going to outweigh tradition, and after the fire department is squared away, they will move on to the police department and sheriff's office.

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