It’s 6:45, and the only light is the glow of the monitors; there isn’t much noise in the room. A quiet conversation over the training that occurred, a phone ringing that’s inevitably someone calling in their burn permit for the morning, the tail end of the movie, and then … day shift starts trickling in. They are well-rested and ready to rumble. The lights are coming up (sunrise in dispatch) and the noise in the room increases with the emergency dispatchers greeting each other and giving their relief their pass downs.
You are walking into CONFIRE Communications Center. CONFIRE is a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) in San Bernardino County, California (USA). Our primary function is to provide 24/7/365 fire, EMS, and rescue dispatch services. We are an Accredited Center of Excellence in IAED’s Medical Protocol. We dispatch 12 departments—six of which are members of our JPA and six are contracts—that span approximately 19,713 square miles of our 20,160-square mile county. In 2017 we dispatched on 212,784 calls.
As day shift settles in, the noise in the room starts to increase. The residents of San Bernardino County are starting to wake up. You can hear the duty chiefs for the day on the radio asking to get logged in, there’s a deal being worked out for time off, and the inevitable address verification with the person on the other end of the phone having no clue where they are.
The building we live in is small and old and was meant to be temporary. We lovingly call it “permanently temporary,” although talks have begun about a new center. Our building that houses our director, dispatch manager, two assistant managers, our three-person finance team, an EMD-Q® office, CAD coordinator, an administrative secretary, and 12 emergency dispatchers, is only one of several on our compound. There are two trailers on the property. One has our Management Information Systems (MIS) team and the other is one of several radio offices. San Bernardino County Sheriff dispatch has their Valley Dispatch office here, and the Office of Emergency Services has a residency on the property.
“Multiple reports on that fire. Sounds ugly, guys. We need to notify CalFire and Forest Service.” The supervisor is thinking ahead. The fire isn’t quite in what we consider a “mutual threat zone,” but with the information we’re getting from the reporting parties … it won’t take long to get there.
CONFIRE Communications, or Comm. Center to our units, has some very unique areas to deal with. Not only are there several areas where our area overlaps with state land and federal land, but Comm. Center is also the operational area dispatch center for San Bernardino County. We coordinate all the mutual aid response into and out of our county.
The North Desert emergency dispatcher has her head on her keyboard; we’re all waiting for her to start banging it! Our North Desert radio is either completely devoid of incidents or an absolute hot mess of traffic accidents, medical aids with two-hour response times, and fires that require us to ask for help from everyone and anyone in the area. Since the area is mostly desert and only has a spattering of staffed and paid-call fire stations, calls are more like a chess game. The job includes phone calls to military bases for assistance, small departments that may or may not have anyone available to help, and coordinating the efforts of three separate ambulance companies to see who will be able to get there quickest are part of the job. The emergency dispatcher has been making phone calls to get some help on a vehicle rollover that is in the middle of nowhere; the reporting party doesn’t even know where they are. To spare the details, the room pulls together, we use our CAD maps, Google Maps, our county fire helicopter, and the knowledge of the area of the one person that responded to staff the volunteer station in the area … we find them, transport, and everyone is OK.
San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States. We cover lakes, deserts with their extreme heat and off-roading, forests, mountains and all their snow and ski resorts, rivers—dry and filled with water—booming cities, small communities, and I even think we have a “Hills Have Eyes” town out there, but that’s unconfirmed. Our population has every end of the spectrum—very affluent areas and extreme poverty. In addition to our topological challenges we have Cal State San Bernardino and several community colleges, too many concrete tilt-ups to count, four military bases (and several other areas they use to train), Ontario Airport and several smaller airports, Joshua Tree National Park, two large concert and sports venues and a bunch of smaller ones too, a casino, and a partridge in a pear tree!
It’s lunch time. The shift has been planning the lunch run since breakfast. There’s a list, money has been collected, the phones light up. Our primary dispatcher is dropping calls like they’re hot! “ME2 respond to a TC NB I 15 just north of Kenwood. -BREAK- ME302 ME40 MT304 ME314 MA302A Residential Structure Fire … -BREAK- ME261 ME263 MS261 ME264 Truck Fire …” “Comm. Center, ME2 balance this to an MCI.” Lunch? What lunch?
All 50 CONFIRE emergency dispatchers are held to a world-class standard. They are all IAED™ EMD certified, CPR certified, and certified in ICS. There is a group trained in ROSS (the Federal Resource Ordering System) and trained Terrorism Liaison Officers. All emergency dispatchers have opportunities to participate in local field training, testing, and drills, and our training program is growing and evolving by the day! CONFIRE also has a very active 911 for Kids program and participates in events all over the county. CONFIRE emergency dispatchers also go above and beyond to support their fellow dispatch centers by sending cards and care packages and donating to our dispatch families in need.
Things have calmed and everyone is eating lunch and laughing, enjoying the moment to joke, talk about their days off, and the latest TV series everyone is following. “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.” Everyone quiets down; CPR is in progress. You can hear the radio traffic pick back up and more phones are ringing … back to work.
It is a great honor to be a part of this amazing team of emergency dispatchers. They have been through hell and back and always come out on top, with their heads held high, ready to face the next challenge!