The Board of Supervisor’s finance committee has endorsed a plan aimed at streamlining 911 calls.
While today dispatchers for the Sheriff’s Office and fire-rescue sit in the same room, they handle different types of calls, transferring them back and forth. That can add time and confusion to a 911 call, especially since many emergencies require a response from both fire-rescue and law enforcement.
Sheriff Michael Chapman at first contentiously opposed a plan to combine the dispatchers, but the county is now set to move ahead with the project. That will mean cross-training dispatchers from both departments, along with hiring additional supervisors, a training manager, and four more sheriff’s office dispatchers to align with fire-rescue shift schedules. That added $1.3 million to the upcoming county budget year.
Eliminating those call transfers was the key recommendation of a study on Loudoun’s emergency communications. Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) called it “a streamlining that’s going to save lives.”
“The universal call-taker concept will ultimately reduce the call processing time by eliminating the need to transfer that call from fire and rescue to the sheriff’s office, and ultimately, gain higher level of services for the citizens,” said Combined Fire-Rescue System Chief Keith Johnson.
“To be frank, it’s a very different conversation than the one that we had when the item first came before us, and you know what, I’m just glad that everyone was able to get together and get on the same page,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
The Town of Leesburg may also ask the Sheriff’s Office to handle its police dispatch, which would bring the town into the combined call-taking center along with the towns of Purcellville and Middleburg. If that happens, the county may provide $2 million to convert the Leesburg Police Department’s computer dispatch system to the county’s.
In a letter to the county, Leesburg Town Administrator Kaj Dentler said he and Leesburg Police Chief Greg Brown support the idea and will bring it to the Leesburg Town Council for consideration during its budget deliberations.
Supervisors on the finance committee recommended moving ahead with the project on a 4-0-1 vote with County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) absent. If the Board of Supervisors agrees with the recommendation, it is estimated the conversion to universal call-takers will take two years, wrapping up in June 2021.