Los Angeles Fire Department overhauling its 911 call system


In a call for help, minutes matter. And for Los Angeles city fire dispatchers, much of that time is taken up by numerous questions they are required to ask.

"The biggest challenge with the card system is we get lots of questions that delay some of our responses. The questions seem that they may be gathering information rather than getting the first unit going right away," said Gabe Acrich, a firefighter/paramedic with LAFD.

The current computerized system requires dispatchers to classify the calls into one of hundreds of different categories before being able to dispatch the call.

"The system we've been using now, we've been using for 25 years. There are many revisions of the current system. The current system seems to be getting more and more complex," said Dr. Marc Eckstein, LAFD medical director.

Criticized for its response times, which city auditors and a fire department task force found fell short of a the national standard, the department is now developing its own customizable call evaluation program.

"The foundation of everything we do in the field starts with dispatch. So dispatch needs to be as robust as possible to provide the best services, especially when lives are on the line," said Eckstein.

The LAFD's call center handles an average of 1,500 EMS calls per day in the city. It's the second busiest EMS system in the country and the only one in the area where all dispatchers are firefighters and paramedics.

Officials say the new system will allow them to use their real world experience in getting 911 callers the exact help they need as quickly as possible.

The department hopes to have the changes in place by early next year.

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