In August of 2013, severe thunderstorms moved over Marion County, Oregon, resulting in a series of lightning-caused fires.
According to Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) communications specialist Loren Hall, these types of fires are rare, but on that day, several occurred in multiple areas of the county.
At 4:47 p.m., a call came in about a house fire within a gated community.
At that time, first responders were already on the scene of a motor vehicle accident and another house fire, which would preclude these individuals from responding to the large house fire. Acknowledging that this would delay the time it took for fire personnel to reach the house fire, the Marion County fire chief escalated the fire to a third alarm.
Categorizing fires with alarms indicates the level of response needed by local authorities. Each alarm elevation indicates the level of severity and how difficult the fire may be to contain.
By the time the first unit arrived on the scene at 5:03 p.m., flames were blazing from the attic roof. Less than half an hour later, a ceiling collapsed, engulfing the interior fire crew in the attic fire and causing a firefighter outside the structure to call MAYDAY over the radio.
As the fire continued burning, it escalated to a sixth alarm.
In total, 44 apparatus, including 18 engines, 15 water tenders, two wildland engines, six ambulances, two support trucks, and 125 firefighters were dispatched to the scene.
To handle the significant response to this fire emergency, an additional dispatcher and a command-level fire officer were brought in and roles were reassigned. This helped better equip the primary and secondary dispatcher to coordinate resources and dispatch additional alarms.
In addition, the command officer coordinated a regional-level response preventing other areas served by METCOM from going uncovered.
Furthermore, the computer aided dispatch (CAD) software system used by METCOM allowed for individuals involved with the fire to see what was happening globally and maintain a high level of situational awareness throughout the emergency.
“On a day when we have multiple emergencies occurring that require a large response, having the ability to work with our CAD system and provide dependable coverage over the entirety of the community that we serve is just incredible,” Hall said.
In a fire emergency, every second is crucial. That's why dispatchers must work quickly to send the appropriate response to the scene.
When a summer lightning storm caused multiple fires in an Oregon community, dispatchers with the Marion Area Multi Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) were tasked with providing effective coverage to their citizens.
To do this, dispatchers relied heavily on built-in fire response plan capabilities in METCOM's computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. These plans dictate what units and capabilities are needed for a specific call and help get a response moving as quickly as possible. Because fire emergencies can escalate quickly, these plans also take alarm levels assigned to fires into consideration.
When dispatchers escalate a fire emergency to a higher alarm, which indicates the severity of the fire emergency, they know exactly what type of response will be sent to the scene with pre-determined responses built in to CAD.
According to METCOM director Gina Audritsh, dispatch centers throughout the United States use the term level and alarm synonymously when discussing fire emergencies.
"It's important that dispatchers can assign alarms in CAD to fire emergencies and get the right response to the scene as quickly as possible," Audritsh said. "Without these capabilities, sending the best response takes longer."
According to Audritsh, there was a time before METCOM upgraded its CAD system when dispatchers relied on paper maps and manual processes when sending a response.
"At METCOM, we've come a long way," Audritsh said. "We've grown to dispatch for 29 agencies. To do this effectively, we needed a CAD system capable of getting our first responders on the scene as quickly and safely as possible. We have that capability now and our responses have improved so much that our fire departments have experienced improved scores with their insurance rating as a result."
When a fire broke out at an Oregon high school, dispatchers relied on response plan capabilities built into their CAD system to get help on the scene as quickly as possible. Take a look back at this article to find out how response plans help dispatchers send the best response possible.
When a fire tore through an Oregon high school, fire crews worked diligently to prevent injuries to students and staff.
The fire started in early May of 2012, which was just six months after the Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) went live on its computer aided dispatch (CAD) software.
This meant that all those working at METCOM were using new technology that had changed their workflow significantly. However, this structure fire provided METCOM with the opportunity to test the new system and its fire response plan capabilities.
When a gunman was on the loose in rural Oregon, public safety personnel worked quickly to get the killer into custody.
In late June 2016, a 911 call came in to the Marion Area Multi-Agency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) reporting a shooting incident. The caller stated that at least one person was dead and others were injured. The shooter had fled the scene.
The dispatcher who took the call immediately began collecting more information and entered it into his computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. The dispatcher discovered the shooting took place in a rural area that bordered two county jurisdictions; METCOM dispatches police and EMS to one of the counties and uses mutual aid from the other county. Mutual aid is an agreement among emergency responders to lend assistance across jurisdictional boundaries.
Due to the severity of the call, the dispatcher with METCOM dispatched the local city police department to respond as automatic aid and coordinated efforts with mutual aid fire and EMS districts. Automatic aid is assistance that is dispatched automatically by a contractual agreement between two fire departments, communities, or fire districts.
When the first rescue units arrived on the scene, they began treating two victims who had gunshot wounds; the third victim was already dead.
"This particular call for service was something we don't get a lot of at METCOM," director Gina Audritsh said. "Being that the incident took place in a rural area, we're glad we had the ability to dispatch first responders to this call and get the individuals the help they needed."
As an active homicide investigation with the shooter's whereabouts unknown, METCOM dispatchers coordinated a multi-agency response. This included auto-paging the incident activity to the agency's Homicide Investigation Team and Tactical SWAT team from Woodburn Police Dept.
To track all responders involved in this call for service, dispatchers monitored activity using the automatic vehicle location functionality (AVL) available in their CAD maps. This provided dispatchers with the ability to track locations and denote any area that fell within the boundaries of each law enforcement jurisdiction so that all agencies could be notified.
In addition, METCOM's incident commander tracked all activity on CAD using built-in functionality that allowed for browsing where all units are located and what calls they're responding to, which ensures no communication was lost between agencies.
This ability to track tips and location information and add narrative about the crime and search for the suspect helped the five dispatchers assigned to the call, command staff, first responders and everyone else working the case to access mission-critical information throughout the search and investigation.
Within eight hours of the initial call for service, the suspect was captured outside of the county trying to flee the state.
"This was a major incident for our community and it had a lot of moving parts," Audritsh said. "Having the tools necessary to ensure we can provide a level of service to our residents is remarkable."
According to METCOM's director Gina Audritsh, when structure fires are reported, dispatchers must task the CAD system with producing an in-depth response. For instance, when a large structure fire is reported, response plans and preplans created by METCOM CAD managers and administrators for specific scenarios are drawn upon for a response.
In the case of the high school fire, as soon as the dispatcher entered the type of call into the CAD system, it knew the appropriate fire district to pull the response from along with which apparatus to send. In this case, three engines and a ladder truck were required for the first alarm.
"As soon as fire crews left the station, we had reports coming in that smoke could be seen coming from the building," Audritsh said. "That bumped the fire up another alarm immediately."
As the fire continued and escalated to a four-alarm response, the dispatcher used the CAD system to look at neighboring jurisdictions to pull more fire crews and apparatus to the school.
"What's great about our CAD system is that it already knows what ladder truck is the closest, which units are available and what stations can respond to any incident," Audritsh said. "This system can go deep within itself to pull more and more resources out so that any emergency gets the proper response. This prevents us from having to get on the phone and call other agencies and departments when an emergency is taking place."
While the school was damaged by the fire, there were no reported injuries and students returned to the building within a week.
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