The ACEs of Delaware prove that accreditation has nothing to do with fitting a mold but everything to do with doing what’s best for the public and the police, fire, and EMS responders dispatched to the scene.
Delaware is the second smallest state (1,954 square miles or 5,060 km2)—of the 50 states in America—behind Rhode Island (1,214 square miles or 3,144 km2). It ranks 44 in terms of population, although sixth highest in density due to its compact size. The three counties—New Castle, Kent, Sussex—line up in succession from north to south, respectively, and because of temperatures moderated by the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, the farther south you go, the warmer it gets year-round.
The climate and proximity to beaches and metro corridor says a lot about the people who live year-round or seasonally in the different counties. Rehoboth Beach in Sussex County, for example, tends to be the summer playground for the Florida snowbirds and the place to go for anyone who loves a beachside vacation, while the strip of New Castle County south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is home to the largest number of long-distance commuters in the state, drawing people from across the Northeast Corridor because of amenities outside the urban rush.
As far as emergency communications goes, Delaware requires that all 911 emergency report centers provide emergency medical dispatch, through a contract with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, including systemized caller interrogation, pre-arrival instructions, and EMD protocols that help determine the appropriate vehicle response and configuration. The law also requires IAED™ medical accreditation.1
The Delaware Emergency Medical Services Oversight Council (DEMSOC) oversees the state’s EMS, which has a staff of 1,300 certified first responders; 1,497 EMT-Basics; 317 paramedics; 210 emergency dispatchers; and 8 medical directors.
- Kent County
The sun was high, temperatures soared into the 80s, and from a stage at the Firefly Music Festival resounded a greeting that needed little reinforcement.
“Stay hydrated. Vodka soda doesn’t count. Stay safe, but definitely get wasted.”
The Firefly Music Festival held in June each year at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway attracts so many people that during those four days Kent County reigns as the fourth-largest county in the state (at all other times, it’s the least populated).
The 2019 (June 21-23) line-up includes headliners Travis Scott, Post Malone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Death Cab For Cutie to multiple stages beckoning their 60,000 to 90,000 (estimated) fans to dance, crowd surf, and—as so strongly suggested—party, party, and party some more. In all fairness, the festival receives high marks for its performances, carbon footprint environment, and reputation of going off each year without a hitch. Acts and audiences keep coming back.
Dan McLaughlin hasn’t missed a festival since it started in 2012. Problem is, he never sees or hears the artists perform.
“People tell me how lucky I am to be there,” he said. “I’m in a room without windows for the entire time I’m there. The radio is nonstop. It’s a challenge.”
McLaughlin is a Kent County 911 Supervisor and a Kent County volunteer firefighter. He’s in charge of the seven-member quality assurance team and in addition to dispatching at the PSAP in Dover, he goes to the joint operations trailer during the county’s big events. Firefly is huge, and surpasses the NASCAR races held twice a year at Woodlands. The fall NASCAR weekend in October drew about 60,000.
NASCAR has held two NASCAR races each year since Dover International Speedway opened in 1969 and, basically, runs itself, McLaughlin said.
Firefly, however, raises the bar.
Kent County EMS fully staffs Firefly, with New Castle and Sussex counties pitching in for the four-day, 24/7 coverage. Emergency dispatchers answer calls, send response, and watch live streaming video from across the festival grounds to help determine the location of emergencies or potential hazards. Medics travel on foot and use motorized mini-ambulances to transport patients to medical tents and trailers or distribute bandages for the blisters that develop from all of the walking between venues and from campsites inside and outside the race track. Most medical calls involve dehydration, heat exhaustion, or problems related to a party atmosphere.
The festival is a microcosm of Kent County 911 year-round—not the party atmosphere but the people in need of emergency attention. Summer months are particularly busy for the five emergency dispatchers on each of the center’s four shifts. Vacationers flock to the beaches and outdoor events—such as Firefly—that bring in people from all over the country. Commuter traffic jams the roads year-round, and the notorious nor’easter storms create three- to four-foot storm surges above high tide. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 dumped nine inches of rain in Kent County in a 36-hour period. Hurricane Florence fizzled before reaching the eastern coast.
McLaughlin has been in Delaware most of his life and like most people at Kent County 911, his public safety career began as a volunteer for the fire department. It’s a comfortable fit. They know the lingo and how things are done, which translates into ease in using the medical and fire protocols. They are in the process of implementing the Police Protocols.
- New Castle
The uncertainty of budget hasn’t stopped Jeffrey P. Miller from pursuing what he believes necessary for the New Castle communication center.
“If I waited for the state to do things [involving operations], I’d be an old man sitting in my office not knowing a thing about 911,” said Miller, Chief of the communication center serving the northernmost and largest of Delaware’s three counties.
New Castle was the first center in Delaware to implement all three protocol systems—EMD, EFD, and EPD, in that order—and the only center in the state that entices recruits through free ETC training and certification.
Roll call and free ETC training/certification are “big ticket” items that Miller initiated to complement fire/EMS and police and keep the center fully staffed. Since shifts run in two 12-hour day and two 12-hour night rotations—with four days off in between—catching up on the past days’ events as they happen over the phone could delay the effectiveness of emergency dispatchers coming on shift. Roll call provides briefings on police, fire, and EMS events that transpired over the previous shift.
“Roll call is huge,” Miller said. “It has value. You can’t go walking into dispatch and expect to do your job like the past four days didn’t happen.”
ETC has cut turnover “significantly,” because, as Miller said, it lets people find out if they’re going to like the job. Those that stay can be certified EMD, EFD, and EPD within six months.
“The program is worth its weight in gold,” Miller said. “We’re not setting people up for failure. They see opportunity for career development.”
CAD data deployment
FirstWatch data links emergency communications to the New Castle County Police Department (NCCPD) TAPS (Targeted Analytical Policing System). Data, based on calls coming into CAD, is used to create predictive maps of hot spots, cold spots, and trending crime that, in turn, determine police resources. Miller attends the weekly “Predictive Policing” meetings and, from the information, directs the prioritization of calls depending on data clusters.
The data-based deployment initiated in 2013 decreased murder and violent crimes. Property crimes fell between 10.9 percent and 37.8 percent, according to a three-year anniversary report, compared to pre-TAPS records (2010–2012).2
“TAPS focuses on hot spots, and we all work together to fix them,” Miller said.
No second chance
Securing funds for projects has everything to do with making the process work for emergency dispatchers (92 slotted positions) and the five police agencies and 23 fire and ambulance services in Delaware’s most populous county (over half a million people in 480 square miles). The New Castle center receives more than 50 percent of the state’s 911 calls, averaging 2,000 emergency and non-emergency calls daily.
Miller’s career in public safety goes beyond his 22 years in emergency communications. His start as a volunteer firefighter for Talleyville Fire Company (Wilmington, Delaware) got him interested in 911, and he worked in emergency communications prior to going full time as volunteer fire chief. He went back to 911 and has overseen implementation of EMD, EFD, and EPD. He is president of the Talleyville Fire Company.
“I’d rather roll my eyes in sand than go through another implementation,” Miller said, in relation to the third rollout (EPD) in 2017. “But it had to be done. The protocols work. Nothing happens without us. There’s no second chance. EMD is so clear and so important, it sounded so wrong not to have police and fire.”
The cities of Seaford and Rehoboth have a lot in common.
They’re both in Sussex County, the southernmost county in Delaware. Their climates are moderated by the Atlantic Ocean, creating mild subtropical weather conditions (hot humid summers and mild winters). Despite seasonal swings in populations, their call volumes are about equal, at least when numbers are ironed out at the end of each year.
“We’re comparable to Rehoboth Beach,” said Anita Bell, Manager, Seaford Police Department communications center. “But we’re busy all year round, while Rehoboth changes with the season. In winter, their calls go way down.”
Rehoboth is the summer escape for Florida snowbirds, and its population goes from about 1,750 permanent residents to upward of an additional 25,000 tourists and part-time residents during the on-season. Seaford’s 7,000 residents are year-round. At one time, Seaford was among the largest chicken-producing areas in a county rated as the largest producer in the world. Dupont chose Seaford as the site of its first nylon plant and although both agriculture and nylon production no longer dominate the economy, employment continues to grow through production and administrative jobs.
Seaford opened the first 911 center in Delaware before 911 was the national number to call for emergency assistance. They used the four-digit number 6644. The center has always been part of the city’s police department.
Bell remembers a time before Delaware became a haven for retirees and before a drive to the beach—about 35 miles east—wasn’t a line of slow-moving traffic during the busy season. She also recalls police dispatch training that relied on payphones and pre-CAD days at the communication center when they used single screens and there was no mapping system available.
The fast-disappearing payphones were part of the early training program for new hires prior to the ANI/ALI system. The dispatcher learned to trace calls made by a police officer who chose a random payphone as part of the training process. If the payphone had a security camera, police could figure out who made the call by synchronizing the time coded on the camera with the time the call was made.
CAD came to the floor in 2006, just one year after Bell was hired. She took over as manager eight years ago. They upgraded to a newer CAD version in 2016. The mobile data terminals (MDTs) in police cars were not an immediate sell because of the challenges involved, such as watching all the information entered by the dispatcher come up on the screen during a chase scene.
“It’s funny to listen to them now,” Bell said. “If the MDT goes down, their world stops. They can’t do without it.”
Even harder than either CAD or protocol—and they use medical, fire, and police—is getting the fire chief behind the standardized dispatch process. It’s a learning curve for most that is repeated every year because of the annual election of the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department Chief.
“Sure, it’s a big change, I tell them,” she said. “But script makes it easier. Everyone asks the same questions so that the information they receive is consistent.”
Seaford communications went live with fire in late 2018, which is not yet required by Delaware, unlike the medical and police protocols. Her goal is tri-ACE and at this point, she’s confident it’s something well within their reach considering all they have been able to achieve.
“I don’t know where technology will take us,” she said. “But it has taken us a very long way in a very short time. Change is something we do well.”
Tammy Ketterman went running on the beach on the November morning she was interviewed for this piece. The exercise is a relaxing start to her day after a 50-mile commute from home to the Rehoboth Police Department communication center. She likes watching the waves come at low tide and doesn’t have to worry about kicking sand onto someone’s towel or tripping over an in-progress sandcastle.
The beauty of an ocean vista and the calm before the storm are reasons Ketterman works in a coastal setting, although, in her case, the calm before the storm has more to with the seasonal tourist trade than it does the chance of a hurricane.
Rehoboth Beach is the snowbird summer capital. From May through September, retirees and sun worshippers of every age and demographic descend upon Rehoboth Beach for the summer, leaving again in late October or early November for their winter hiatus along the country’s southern coastline. Year-round residents, and there are about 1,000, tend to avoid the beach except during the winter, Ketterman said.
“There’s no sand to walk on during the busy season,” said Ketterman, manager, Rehoboth Beach Police Department 911 center. “You end up walking on other people’s towels. People who live here stay away.”
The waterfront and Boardwalk Plaza are a blanket of tourists on a normal summer day. No curfew is imposed on the mile-long plaza, although the beach closes from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. each day for health (cleanup) and safety reasons. Festivals, such as Fourth of July fireworks shot over the ocean and the annual Beach Tree Lighting and Sing-Along, draw upward of 50,000 people. As may be expected, calls to 911 quadruple with the majority requiring police assistance for the type of crime large numbers tend to attract (theft makes up 88 percent of total crime).
Violent crime is minimal. The number of full-time officers exceeds state averages by 4:1, and the Rehoboth Beach Patrol is linked to a beach patrol communication center.
The 11 calltakers/dispatchers at the police department headquarters are EMD-, EFD-, and EPD-certified. They dispatch police for the one square mile of waterfront and boardwalk and dispatch fire and EMS for an area covering 36 square miles. Two people cover every shift, except during the busy season when two more come in between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. They also handle administrative calls and assist people coming into the police station, a short five blocks from the plaza.
Like most public service employees in a resort setting, Ketterman lives outside of Rehoboth Beach. The daily commute, she said, doesn’t bother her, and she’s been doing it for 15 years, same as her husband who commutes 51 miles in the opposite direction each day. She grew up in Pensacola, Florida (USA), so she’s no stranger to popular waterfront destinations. Rehoboth Beach, however, by comparison, she said, is a small town, and it works hard to uphold a family safe environment.
“They want to keep this a nice place,” Ketterman said. “People are bent on being friendly.”
Ketterman is personally bent on making tri-ACE history in Delaware. The Rehoboth Beach 911 center is a medical ACE, and it’s their goal to accredit in police and fire in 2019, which, at this point in time, would make them first in the state to achieve tri-ACE status.
“We’re very proud of what we do,” Ketterman said. “Ask anyone here, and they’ll tell you it’s about helping people, and everybody loves being able to do that.”
Sussex County used to be the best kept secret in Delaware.
The state’s largest county (968 square miles of land) is now almost the fastest growing in terms of population, with the past several decades producing a notable shift in the reasons why people settle there.
“We live in a beautiful area,” said Sussex County 911 QA Supervisor Debra Jones. “People come here, and they don’t want to leave.”
Sussex County is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Nanticoke River to the west. Maryland is to the south, which means a relatively short commute to Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For those living in Sussex County, home is an escape from the congestion with its rich farming and coastal landscape and community intent on preserving history.
Southern saltwater and freshwater marshes, Cypress Swamp, and breathtaking ocean views not only attract seasonal tourists but also convince some of them to stay. Agriculture remains a dominant force, bringing in nearly $1.2 billion annually, with Sussex holding first place as the country’s largest producer of lima beans and broiler chickens. Approximately 45 percent of the county’s land is farmed (270,000 acres).
Despite the agrarian dominance, Sussex County’s population increased 11.7 percent during the past six years, which might not sound substantial until you consider the population has quadrupled since 1950 (from 61,000 to 225,000 in 2018). The largest population gains are along the coast and inland bays.
Population increases, tourism (exceeding $850 million in annual revenue), and an ideal location for manufacturing (easy access to water, land, and air) add to the economy. The influx of residents and consequent new construction boosts property tax and real estate transfer tax revenues, keeping the county’s property taxes among the lowest in the region.
Jones has worked in Sussex County public services for 30 years and chairs the Delaware Emergency Medical Dispatch Steering and Aero-Medical Committee. A center opened in 2008 near the Georgetown Airport features the latest state-of-the-art technology, including a GPS tracking system to better pinpoint 911 caller location for wireless devices.
Jones has been in the EOC since 1988 and before that, she worked for a private ambulance service. She oversees quality assurance for the 24 dual-certified (medical and fire) emergency dispatchers.
Does she like the changes Sussex County has experienced during her lifetime?
Relatively speaking, but there’s also a past Jones relishes in modern day.
She’s a huge history buff and active in the annual Sussex County Return Day—committee president since 2016—a 200-year-old Georgetown event where national and local politicians come together to celebrate the county’s heritage and symbolically bury the hatchet of political differences.
The politics don’t interest her so much as the impact of time on change.
“I think that sometimes looking at that and giving people a perspective of a simple thing, like a garment would have been used or remade or handed down until it was just nothing, and then it was made into a quilt or something,” she said. “Where today, if we get a stain on a shirt, we just go to the store to get a new one. Just bringing those kinds of things to show people how people lived back then, I think, is my greatest passion.”3
1“Delaware Emergency Medical Services Oversight Council (DEMSOC)—18th Annual Report.” 2018; April 15. https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/ems/files/demsocreport2017.pdf (accessed Nov. 9, 2018).
2Setting E. “New Castle County Police Targeted Analytical Policing System (3 Year Anniversary).” 2016; Jan. 15. https://www.nccde.org/DocumentCenter/View/13163/TAPS-Review-UPDATE?bidId= (accessed Sept. 7, 2018).
3Rolfe G. “Debbie Jones: Return Day, Civil War history are ongoing passions.” 2018; Jan. 21.
https://sussexpost.com/news/debbie-jones-return-day-civil-war-history-ongoing-passions/ (accessed Oct. 3, 2018).