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The city of Toronto (Canada) should consider integrating its fire and emergency medical operations, reduce the range of medical calls that it attends and improve response times with dynamic staging of equipment, according to a consultant’s report released earlier this month. The firm KPMG performed a Core Services Review of all city agencies, including the fire department and EMS agency, which now operate independently. The report found a decreasing demand for fire emergency services, but increasing demand for EMS services, leaving fire response times the same and increasing EMS response times. KPMG noted that the fire department has twice the budget of EMS, yet the majority of calls for service are for EMS. “Finding the right way to allocate available emergency resources is a major challenge for modern cities,” the report said. “Simply integrating the organizations will not create massive change initially, but it should start the long process to providing more efficient emergency response services,” KPMG concluded. Download (pdf) the section of the report dealing with fire and EMS here.

Ten months after a University of Texas–Austin student used an AK-47 to shoot up the campus and then killed himself, the university police department has issued a report outlining how it handled the incident, including communications among officers, students and other agencies. Colton Tooley never fired any of his 11 rounds at other people, or menaced anyone. But his actions set off a four-hour lockdown of the huge campus until his suicide could be confirmed. In the 19-page report issued today, UT police said incident command, operational strategy and tactics and police-to-student communications worked well. The two-position police comm center was immediately upstaffed with previously-trained civilians, and dispatchers fielded 14 calls to 911 and 511 calls to the 7-digit non-emergency numbers in the three hours after the first call reporting Tooley’s gunfire. They activated warning messages to the campus using text messages, closed-circuit television and warning sirens. But the report noted that incoming calls overwhelmed the phone lines, limiting out-going calls, and the center became too crowded with personnel, making it difficult to hear radio and telephone calls. There was confusion on which notification methods had already been used, and the university and Austin city police department, “did not coordinate well,” the report said. Download (pdf) the full report for more information about the incident and recommendations.

The insect infestation at the Anderson County (SC) 911 center is so severe that exterminator’s can’t identify the bugs, and one dispatcher required surgery to remove insect larvae that caused a lesion. Sheriff John Skipper said two teams of exterminators have visited the center, but with little success. The building is 62 years-old and the center’s electronic equipment makes it difficult to thoroughly spray insecticides, Skipper said. He told a recent city council meeting that several dispatchers have required medical treatment for bites. Read more about the situation here.

A series of Canadian courts has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Hamilton (Ont.) police dispatcher claiming the department improperly blamed her for not following procedures in a 2007 multiple murder case. The country’s Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on Wednesday, ending the lawsuit. Teresa Dinunzio filed the action claiming that in public statements, department officials blamed her and another dispatcher—without naming them—of failing to send officers when Dinunzio answered a phone call from the agency’s most-wanted fugitive, identified himself and asked that officers come and arrest him. Instead, Dinunzio told the man to walk to headquarters and turn himself in. The man never appeared, and a week later he fatally stabbed two people and critically injured two more. A month later a deputy police chief revealed that the suspect had dialed 911 to turn himself in. He said the dispatcher should have sent officers Priority 2, but instead handled it as a Priority 3, a violation of policy. The deputy chief did not name Dinunzio or her coworker. Her original lawsuit was dismissed by a Superior Court of Justice on the grounds that her labor contract set out how work disputes should be handled, and that a civil court had no jurisdiction in the matter. When Dinunzio appealed, the provincial Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear her appeal this week. Download (pdf) the civil court’s decision on the case, and read more about the situation here.

A nurse from a Tucson (Ariz.) urgent care facility left off a single digit from her address when reporting a child wasn’t breathing, and a calltaker failed to notice there error, sending fire and EMS units to the wrong location. The nurse gave the address as “833,” when it was actually “8333.” A second and third 911 call with the correct address didn’t lead to a correction, and so emergency units didn’t arrive until more than 10 minutes after the original call. Tucson city officials are providing few details, but do say, “The dispatcher involved was terminated for failure to follow procedures.” It’s not clear if the error is somehow related to a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) upgrade that was made six days before the incident. However, news accounts say there have been dropped calls and missing ANI/ALI information from 911 calls with the new software. Read more about the incident here.

A New Haven (Conn.) dispatcher helped save a four year-old boy who was found unconscious in a backyard swimming pool on Monday. David Mancini used EMD protocol cards to give the 911 caller instructions, and that person then relayed them to another person at the pool. The child survived and is expected to recover.

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Police officials in Terre Haute (Ind.) have confirmed that the wife of K-9 Officer Brent Long was working in the comm center on Monday when her husband was shot and killed by a suspect during a warrant service. Officials did not say if Danielle Long was working the radio during the incident or how she learned of the shooting. Off. Long and a team of U.S. Marshals had gone to a home on the city’s north side. The suspect opened fire immediately when the team of officers and marshals entered the house Monday afternoon, striking Long several times and wounding his dog Shadow. Officers shot back and killed the suspect. Long was taken to a hospital where he later died. Shadow is in critical condition with a head wound but is expected to survive. Off. Long was a six-year veteran of the agency. He and and his wife Danielle have an 11 year-old daughter and 10 month-old son.

A 13 year-old Elgin (Ill.) girl was home by herself when she heard someone breaking a window, and her first thought was to call her aunt instead of 911. But when the aunt dialed 911 for help, Elgin police dispatcher Kathy Grage called the girl directly and guided her through a frightening ordeal—hiding from two burglars who were trying to take the family’s big-screen television. Grage said she could hear the men in the background of the call, and simultaneously tried to obtain information from the girl and keep her calm and quiet. “Police are just pulling up,” she told the girl towards the end of the call. “I’ve got lots and lots of officers outside. Everything’s going to be okay.” Police arrested two men outside the home and the girl was uninjured. Watch a news video after the break. [click to continue…]

By 2019 all wireless carriers must be using handset-based location technology when handling 911 emergency telephone calls, according to rule changes imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to improve the accuracy of locating callers. In addition, the FCC is seeking input on how commercial location applications might be leveraged to support 911 networks, and how to improve indoor location accuracy, such as in a skyscraper. Right now, FCC regulations set two different accuracy standards—one for carriers using network-based technologies and a second for those using handset-based tech. The standards take into account that network methods are inherently less accurate, and that in rural areas might be sufficiently accurate to locate callers. However, the Commission has been tightening accuracy rules over the last 10 years, including changing how carriers determine and report their system accuracy to the FCC. The Commission also asked for public comments on how to improve VoIP call location accuracy. Download (pdf) the announcement of the Commission’s order here, and the full Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Third Report and Order, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here. Also, download (pdf) FCC commissioners statements on their rulemaking.

A suicidal man who climbed up a Welland (Ont.) bridge at night and perched on a girder ignored officers and negotiators who came to the scene. Instead, he preferred to talk to Niagara Regional Police Communications dispatcher Krista Neilson, and after 49 minutes climbed safely back down to the bridge deck. “I just tried to engage him in anything he wanted to talk about,” Neilson said later. The eight-year veteran said she’s previously handled distraught callers, but it’s the first time she’s dealt with a suicidal person. The man’s mood varied, Neilson said, and it was difficult to manage the ups and downs. “If you stay clam, it encourages them to stay calm,” she said. Read more about Neilson’s reaction to the incident here.

A civil rights watchdog group in the United Kingdom has released information obtained from local police departments showing that 904 officers and civilian employees were disciplined between 2007 and 2010 for improperly accessing criminal justice databases. Another 243 officers and civilians were convicted of criminal violations and 98 were fired, the study found. The group Big Brother Watch says the Merseyside police department alone reported that 208 employees were convicted of Data Privacy Act violations since 2007, more than any other agency. Big Brother Watch director Daniel Hamilton said many employees simply ran background records checks on friends and possible partners, but some were convicted for passing sensitive information to criminal gangs and drug dealers. One police sergeant was sentenced to 12 months in jail upon his conviction. “This is at best hugely intrusive and, at worse, downright dangerous,” Hamilton said in a press release. “Police forces must adopt a zero tolerance approach to this kind of behaviour. Those found guilty of abusing their position should be sacked on the spot.” Download (pdf) the group’s full report on computer intrusions by police officers here.

There are still some residents of Big Sandy (Tex.) who remember what happened 25 years ago—Upshur County dispatcher Rosalie Williams was kidnapped by a high-risk prisoner who escaped from his cell, and held hostage for a day until she escaped from a railroad boxcar. The 25th anniversary of the incident was Sunday, but was not really observed by Williams, whose last name is now Turner. “When people are going through a traumatic experience, they want to forget about it,” Williams-Turner told a reporter for the Longview News-Journal newspaper. On July 10, 1986 prisoner Jerry McFadden was being held on murder charges in the county jail, which was adjacent to the dispatching area where Williams-Turner worked. When a deputy opened his cell door, McFadden struck him with a piece of metal ripped from the window frame. McFadden had Williams-Turner and a co-worker drag the deputy into a cell. He then locked up the deputy and the co-worker, but took Williams-Turner hostage. He unlocked the deputy’s gun from a drawer and forced Williams-Turner outside to her car and the pair drove off. They drove out of town, but ran into a tree when they heard a helicopter overhead. They hid in a boxcar during the day in triple-digit heat until Williams-Turner was nearly unconscious. Finally, when McFadden went to find water, Williams-Turner struggled to her feet and ran to a nearby house for safety. Read more details about the incident and Williams-Turner resolve to survive here.

A 15-year veteran Chicago (Ill.) police-fire dispatcher was killed early this morning as she drove home from work, after her car was struck broadside by a vehicle being chased by Chicago police officers. Marciea Adkins, 42, died at a hospital shortly after the crash, according to Office of Emergency Communications (OEMC) executive director Gary Schenkel. He said comm center personnel were “shocked and deeply saddened” to hear of Adkins’ death, and that grief counselors have been made available. Flags outside the comm center have been lowered to half-staff. Coworkers and supervisors described Adkins as “the nicest, most positive person you would ever want to meet,” he said. Police said Adkins had worked the night shift, and at 6:15 a.m. was driving west on W. Armitage Ave. on the city’s northwest side. At the same time, CPD officers were pursuing a Range Rover northbound on N. Hoyne Ave., after the driver fled from a red-light traffic stop. The vehicle struck a CPD patrol car as it sped off, officers said. At the intersection of the two streets, the Range Rover struck Adkins’ vehicle and spun it into a fire hydrant. The suspect ran from the Range Rover but was quickly captured by police. Police say the Range Rover had been reported stolen. Update: The 16 year-old driver of the stolen car was intoxicated, police allege, and has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder, felony burglary, DUI and traffic violations. Adkins’ husband is a Chicago Fire Department dispatcher, and they have a young daughter. News video after the break. [click to continue…]

A Collier County (Fla.) family was terrorized but unharmed after a team of heavily-armed sheriff’s deputies raided their home, relying on a telephone call reporting that a child had been stabbed and the adults were being held hostage by armed criminals. In fact, the hoax call was made from Canada, and was related to the family’s teenage son and online gaming. The ordeal marks one more incident in a thankfully-infrequent series of SWATing calls that report serious incidents and provoke a large—and armed—law enforcement response. Florida investigators say this is likely what happened: the 15 year-old son was playing on-line Xbox games with one or more gamers. One of the gamers maliciously hacked into the son’s Xbox and obtained sufficient personal information to create a believable crime scenario. The gamer then used an VoIP to dial a local Florida deaf interpretation service (TRS), and pretended to be a female victim, and gave the son’s home address. The TRS operator called the sheriff’s office and began relaying the hoax incident information. Over 26 minutes, the gamer described a stabbing and six people being held hostage. The dispatcher asked questions through the TRS and assured the “victim” that help was enroute. Only after deputies entered the home did they discover the hoax. Investigators are studying the son’s Xbox device but so far have no clues about who made the call. Watch a TV news report here.

The Hamilton County (Tenn.) 911 dispatcher who answered Heinz Lange’s 911 call last month misheard a single word, creating an almost 30-minute delay in sending fire units to the man’s home, and ending with the house totally destroyed. Lange awoke to smoke inside the home, but managed to escape through an upper-floor window. He then dialed 911 and told the calltaker, “I think my house is on fire.” However, the calltaker heard the word “heart” and not “house,” and began asking Lange a series of medically-related questions. Upon determining that Lange was medically fit, the calltaker asked, “So you don’t want an ambulance anymore?” When Lange said, “No, no,” the call ended. Lange called back about 25 minutes later and reported the fire to another dispatcher, who immediately sent fire units. Comm center executive director John Stuemer quickly admitted the error, and noted that the word “fire” wasn’t mentioned by either caller after the initial exchange. He added that he’s looking at ways to eliminate a similar mistake in the future. Coincidentally, the original fire flared up overnight, completely destroying the damaged home. Read more and listen to the call here.