Politics & Government

County dispatch service criticized

When the Clovis Fire Department shifted its dispatch system to the Fresno County emergency communications center in southeast Fresno, the department expected to save money and provide better service.

But Clovis fire union leaders say the department has not met goals set in its contract with the county.

Earlier this year, the city signed a one-year agreement with the Fresno County Emergency Medical Services Department as a trial run to examine whether the county agency could provide better service than the city's existing fire dispatch system.

At a meeting Monday night, Clovis City Council members were issued an update on the first four months using the county fire dispatching services.

During that time, the level of service, union leaders say, is not what city residents have come to expect from their department.

And, a recommendation from Dan Lynch, the county EMS director, may further reduce service to residents, they say.

Lynch recommended that firefighters not be dispatched to "Priority 3" medical calls, which are for non-life-threatening, but urgent issues. For those calls, an ambulance with upgraded life support capabilities would be dispatched.

"Firefighters going to nonemergency calls may make them unavailable to go to the more life-threatening calls like a heart attack," Lynch said. "If they have their fire department responding to non-emergency calls, that's a tremendous benefit to the residents, but we don't feel it's the best use of resources."

But Randy Finfrock, Clovis Firefighters' Association president, said firefighters frequently discover when they arrive that a "Priority 3" call should have been labeled a higher priority.

The city is conducting a study about whether it loses time in getting to higher priority calls by reporting to "Priority 3" calls.

By comparison, the Fresno Fire Department does not respond to "Priority 3" or "Priority 2" calls, which require lights and sirens for what are presumed to be emergency conditions, said Ken Shockley, a Fresno Fire Department spokesman.

In addition, the county dispatch system is not meeting the standards set in the contract to process 90% of fire calls within 60 seconds. Only 58% of calls are processed in 60 seconds or fewer and it takes 140 seconds or fewer for 90% of the calls to be processed, Clovis Chief Mark Aston said.

Nevertheless, he said customer satisfaction is at similar levels of what it was before the dispatch change.

The council will hear another update on the issue early next year and may choose to revert to a city-run fire department dispatch system or contract with another agency. Either way, it's expected to be more costly than the county program, Aston said.