By Paige Nash
A resolution was unanimously approved by the Webster Parish E-911 Communications Board in May of this year, but it has been up for discussion off and on over the last two years. The resolution states that all Webster Parish Fire Departments will now be required to pay a $5,000 annual fee to continue dispatch services provided by the Webster Parish E-911 Communications. If the individual fire departments choose not to pay the fee, they will forgo certain assistance and services that have previously been provided by Webster Parish 911 free of charge.
These services will include computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system information, which is utilized by dispatchers, the call takers and 911 operators. It gives the dispatchers a way to log and prioritize calls that are received with information such as, the status and severity of a situation, the location and then they can dispatch the closest law enforcement, fire department or Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel. This CAD system also has the ability to send out text messages to the emergency personnel in the field.
If the fire departments choose not to pay this fee, they will also lose access to the app, “Who’s Responding.” Individuals will be able to subscribe and pay for the service if they so wish, but it will no longer be provided free of charge by 911. The app is great for first responders. Members are given the ability to receive real-time notifications as soon as an alert happens. It also supplements as a pager and allows responders to communicate to let each other know who is responding to the call and shows their exact location with the GPS tracking feature.
Webster Parish 911 will also no longer be reporting to or providing information to Property Insurance Association of Louisiana (PIAL). This is a non-profit association that is made up of all insurance companies in the state that are licensed to write fire coverages. This association considers that information provided and grades the individual municipalities in terms of their fire protection capabilities. This is referred to as a PIAL rating and it is used to determine fair insurance ratings.
They rate fire departments on a scale of 1-10. 10 being the worst and 1 being the best. These ratings are based on a variety of factors, such as communication services and equipment. If this rating goes up it causes property insurance to go up.
Kip Mourad is the current City of Minden Fire Chief and has also previously served as a Webster Parish 911 Board member, so he understands the predicament 911 is in with the decrease in revenue, but he is not sure if charging the parish fire departments is the best way to meet their funding needs.
“Personally, I don’t think it is fair for these smaller fire departments who perform very few runs a month to have to pay as much as a bigger department who may perform multiple runs a day. I am not sure how someone would go about figuring out a fair fee for each department, but I do think it should be based on the amount of runs they do, ” said Mourad.
When the fire chiefs were made aware of the changes that were on the horizon, there was discussion regarding the legality of it all, whether it would be legal for 911 to refuse to dispatch if they received an emergency call regarding a fire or other emergency. After a legal consultation with parish attorney Patrick Jackson, it was confirmed to be completely legal and advisable.
If a fire department decides to not pay the annual fee, they may have to resort to the old way of doing things. One option would be, 911 continuing to receive calls on their behalf and then forward or transfer to the fire chief, where it would then be his responsibility to dispatch his crew in whatever matter decided upon.
Before 911 an emergency call was made by a caller directly to the closest fire department, each of them having their own number that would be listed in the yellow pages. If it were after hours that number would be programmed to ring at the chief’s home and then a phone tree would be initiated. A phone tree is a prearranged manual system used to activate a group of people by telephone. One person would call two to three others, then those people were assigned to call two to three others, until everyone had been reached.
Some of the more rural departments still use a fire horn as a means to alert volunteers and citizens, but this is not a very dependable form of dispatch. Not having a reliable form of communication service could impact the individual departments PIAL rating, which will in turn cause the property insurance to go up within the district, so it is not just an issue for the fire departments, it is an issue for the communities within our parish.
The Webster Parish 911 Communications Board will be discussing the consequences of not paying the annual fee in further detail at the upcoming public meeting to be held at 6 p.m. September 1 at the Webster Parish Courthouse.
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