Tucson Fire takes over 911 center and problem riddled-system
TFD Chief was notified of switchover on Monday
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – The city’s troubled 911 call center and system are now under the management of the Tucson Fire Department after months of complaints by dispatchers and continual technical glitches in the system.
Fire Chief Jim Critchley said he welcomes the changeover and his approach to fixing the call center is similar to that of his firefighters when it comes to an incident: forming an action plan, identifying and prioritizing issues and finally acting on an informed assessment by his team.
However, the actual process hasn’t started, given that City Manager Mike Letcher notified Critchley Monday afternoon of the change.
“I don’t know what was happening beforehand. I know that this partnership with communications has been talked about for years and years,” Critchley said. “Official notification that it was going to come to the fire department took place at 3:30 Monday afternoon.”
That decision came hours after dispatchers publicly came forward with their concerns about public safety because of continuing problems with the new 911 system installed in late May. 9 On Your Side asked Letcher whether that was the impetus for the sudden transition, and Letcher said he respects the dispatchers and their right to express concerns, but had called Critchley beforehand during the weekend to ask whether TFD could handle the 911 system. KGUN9 News asked why he didn’t get the Critchley’s buy-in weeks or months before the transition.
“Interestingly enough, the fire department has always wanted this … This is not new. This has been out in the organization for a long time. We just decided this was a good time to do it,” Letcher responded.
KGUN9 News also asked Letcher how a change in management or authority would help the communications center, where the majority of problems have been technical in nature. “Well, the major technical issues – I think most of those have been resolved, or close to resolution. I think where people are at now is really some of the operational issues, involving making sure … dispatchers are comfortable with the new system.”
The city did not consult dispatchers before the 911 system change, but Critchley emphasized that this switchover will incorporate their input.
“Some of my captains are familiar with the dispatcher center. All will be in the room with supervisors and dispatchers and start pulling together different committee groups to answer these questions, to solve these problems,” Critchley said.
Public Safety Communications Superintendent Geoffrey Kuhn said the challenge for improving the center involves both fixing technical issues as well as boosting morale and personnel issues.
“Our focus needs to be working through these problems and then making sure that our folks are taken care of,” Kuhn said.
Councilman Steve Kozachik has criticized city staff for not being transparent by issuing a memo telling city employees not to respond to media requests regarding the June 1st incident of a 10-year-old girl who died. Dispatchers were delayed in sending paramedics to the correct address, and many say glitches in the 911 system may have played a factor in her death.
Critchley said he will be as transparent as possible with problems and solutions at the center: “I’m not a person that hides anything. It’s better to get it out and deal with those issues, than do anything else with them. That’s where my guidance is and that’s what I’ll be working on.”