EAST LIVERPOOL - The city police department responded Wednesday to published reports of comments made by a Calcutta Fire Department official regarding response time to 911 calls.
During this week's St. Clair Township trustee meeting, assistant Calcutta fire Chief Dave McCoy encouraged residents to call the emergency numbers listed for the Calcutta and Glenmoor fire departments rather than calling 911.
McCoy was quoted as saying calling 911 could delay the fire department's response time as much as five to 12 minutes by the time the call is relayed to the fire departments' dispatch station and then firefighters are toned out.
The Calcutta and Glenmoor departments' public safety answering point (PSAP) for 911 calls is the East Liverpool Police Department. When a 911 call is made, city police dispatchers relay the message to North Star Critical Care, which dispatches for the fire departments.
McCoy claimed that, if city dispatchers are already dealing with an emergency when a fire call comes in, they must choose which call takes priority, which also can delay calls to the fire department.
The city's most senior dispatcher, Patrick Scafide, responded to McCoy's comments Wednesday in a prepared statement, saying, "If (McCoy's) statements weren't so serious, they would be laughable. I could not imagine being a resident of St. Clair Township and waking up to the news reports that the 911 system is not only dysfunctional but would ultimately cost someone their home, or even worse, a life."
Scafide said that the 911 center dispatcher is "simply the initial point of contact," and that the dispatchers follow protocols set up by all entities involved in the Emergency Response System, the Calcutta Fire Department in this case.
"To say there is a five- to 12-minute time lapse from a call received in the 911 dispatch center to the toning out of the appropriate fire department is not only reckless and inaccurate, but, quite frankly, a game of semantics, half-truths and political posturing being played out at a public meeting for whatever ends (McCoy) has in mind," Scafide said, also challenging McCoy to produce "any evidence whatsoever that backs up his claims."
Scafide pointed out that, while it would appear the numbers McCoy encouraged residents to call go directly into the fire station, that is inaccurate, saying, "Those lines go right to the aforementioned dispatch center, which tone out the fire departments and so on and so forth."
He added, "To actually use scare tactics to get people to avoid the 911 call center is reprehensible and dangerous. To make someone believe their emergency might not be as important as another is another half-truth. To be sure, there are different degrees of emergencies, and dispatchers are trained to prioritize those situations and act accordingly."
Aside from the prepared statement, both Scafide and police Chief John Lane questioned why, if McCoy or other fire officials feel there has been a problem, they have not contacted the chief.
"I'm sure he could be accommodated. We're here to proudly serve the public, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Scafide said, adding he was "dumbfounded" when he read McCoy's allegations in Wednesday's newspaper.
Lane agreed, saying, "If he has an issue, why isn't he coming down here? Everything we do is recorded. Why didn't he come down that day (when any such incident occurred)?"
According to Lane, there is a "rare occurrence" when a 911 call gets routed to Hancock County instead of East Liverpool's PSAP but even then it does not take five minutes for the call to be relayed back to the city.
"It's nowhere near that long," Lane emphasized. "Twelve minutes: That's ridiculous."
Both Lane and Scafide pointed out that St. Clair Township just recently renewed the dispatching contract it has with the city's police department.
"So, they must be pleased with us," Scafide concluded.
McCoy emphasized during his remarks that it is still acceptable to call 911 if someone doesn't know the departments' emergency numbers.