911 service is too valuable to either ignore or discard

Columbiana County officials worked for more than 20 years to bring 911 emergency service to our residents. While there was initial resistance to allowing five call centers to dispatch for the entire county, for the most part the system appears to be working.

Now, a local fire department is telling its residents to ignore 911 and call directly into its station when emergency services are needed. Calcutta fire Chief Dave McCoy told St. Clair Township trustees last week that residents will get a quicker response if they call one of the two township fire departments – Calcutta and Glenmoor – directly on their emergency line.

While saying it is still OK to call 911, he contends that doing so may delay the departments’ response time by 5 to 12 minutes.

The East Liverpool police department, which is the 911 public safety answering point (PSAP) for the Calcutta and Glenmoor fire departments, took issue with McCoy’s allegations, and senior dispatcher Pat Scafide responded.

Scafide called McCoy’s statements inaccurate and accused him of using “scare tactics” to get people to avoid the 911 call center and challenging McCoy to produce “any evidence whatsoever that backs up his claims.”

Both Scafide and East Liverpool police Chief John Lane questioned why, if McCoy or other fire officials feel there has been a problem, they have not contacted Lane.

Since its inception in the United States in 1968, the 911 emergency calling system has been credited with saving thousands of lives. The reason for its effectiveness is very simple – you don’t have to remember your local station’s number. Call 911 and dispatchers will route your call to the appropriate station.

McCoy emphasized during his remarks that it is still acceptable to call 911 if someone doesn’t know the departments’ emergency numbers, but he encouraged residents to keep the stations’ numbers handy in their homes. This might be all right in a minor emergency, but safety forces all know that sometimes lost seconds mean lost lives. The 911 system was created so that people, and children, can remember that simple three-digit number even when under duress.

When fire chiefs from both St. Clair Township fire departments – Calcutta and Glenmoor – suggested back in November of 2012 that their residents call them directly, 911 director Robert Emmons voiced his opposition to that idea.

“I oppose that suggestion for emergency situations, because most often when people are experiencing an emergency their minds focus on the crisis and not their location… When someone dials 911 from either a cell phone or landline telephone and screams ‘fire’ and then drops the phone, at least we know where to send the fire trucks,” Emmons said.

It’s true that no system is perfect and even Chief Lane conceded that on “rare” occasions a 911 call has been routed to Hancock County instead of ELPD. But even then, Lane said, it is relayed quickly and does not take 5 minutes to be received by the city.

It appears that the only real problem with the 911 system is lack of communication between the PSAP and the departments using it. Officials need to work together to iron out these problems.

The 911 system is a valuable service used effectively throughout the country. It shouldn’t just be tossed aside because of a few perceived flaws.