Central Jackson County fire district wants to route 911 calls to Kansas City

08/19/2014 11:18 AM

08/19/2014 11:28 AM

To reduce dispatching costs by more than half, the fire district that serves the Blue Springs and Grain Valley areas wants to shift dispatch services to the Kansas City Fire Department.

If Kansas City and its fire department approve, fire and medical calls to the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District will be routed through Kansas City by the end of September.

CJC Assistant Chief Eddie Saffell said the shift would save his department more than $450,000 per year and wouldn’t affect the quality of service or response times.

The district provides fire and emergency medical services for about 80,000 people in just over 55 square miles in Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Lake Tapawingo and parts of rural Jackson County.

Dispatching now costs CJC about $850,000 in staff and equipment expenses each year, and Saffell said those costs would rise in the future with software and equipment upgrades.

Contracting services through the Kansas City Fire Department would pare that cost to $380,000.

Calls to 911 would still ring into Jackson County Sheriff or Blue Springs police dispatch, but be routed to Kansas City. Saffell said technology allows the routing to take place is just a few seconds.

“The connection is almost immediate,” he said.

Blue Springs Councilwoman Susan Culpepper, who is leading an effort to unite all of Blue Springs under CJC fire coverage, said she supported the department’s move.

Central Jackson County administrators have been transparent about the shift, she said, adding she supports any effort to save money.

“The way I see it, it’s just someone else answering the phone,” she said. “We’re always in favor of saving a dollar as long as we get the same service.”

The shift would mean the loss of nine dispatching jobs from CJC’s Station Three at 805 N.E. Jefferson St. in Blue Springs.

Saffell said early conversations with Kansas City have included talk of opening positions at the Kansas City fire dispatching center for some, if not all, of the nine CJC dispatchers.

“If they’re over there, they’d be able to help us (CJC firefighters) because they already know the area,” Saffell said.

Battalion Chief James Garrett, a public information officer for the Kansas City Fire Department, said that because an agreement is not yet complete, he couldn’t comment on whether CJC dispatchers could move to Kansas City.

“We would definitely need to upgrade our staff,” he added.

Beyond adding staff to the Kansas City dispatching center, Garrett said, the departments would have to make sure radios and GPS equipment are compatible. But he said no additional equipment or software should be needed.

The Kansas City Fire Department handles 110,000 to 120,000 calls annually. Last year Central Jackson County dispatched fewer than 6,700 calls.

It’s not a major concern if some Kansas City-based dispatchers are unfamiliar with Eastern Jackson County, Saffell said, because CJC firefighers and EMTs do know the area and use GPS systems for navigation.

This is the second change to fire and EMS dispatching in eight years at Central Jackson County.

In 2006 dispatching was moved out of a joint police and fire dispatching unit operated by the city. At the time, Saffell said both the fire department and the police department were seeing a marked increase in calls and separating the services eased the burden on dispatchers.

Although he could not be specific, Saffell said the district made a “significant investment” for new equipment including desks, computers and radios, plus the additional staff. The department plans to keep its dispatching equipment for now. During a large fire or emergency, Saffell said, it could be used for a local communications hub.

Saffell said the public has been largely quiet about the change, but the department has seen some Facebook messages about it.

“Any time there’s a change, people should be concerned,” he said. “But we assure them that they’re still getting the same quality of service.”

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