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Cornelius fire chief seeking solutions to delays in fire dispatch system

The fire chief spoke about possible improvements at the town board's special budget meeting on Thursday.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — In an emergency, every second counts. Cornelius residents who call for MEDIC or fire may not get the help they need as quickly as they’d like. Cornelius Fire Chief Guerry Barbee said delays at the dispatch center contribute to that.

He addressed the problem at a town board of commissioners meeting on Monday and on Thursday, presenting possible solutions at the board’s special budget meeting.

In an emergency, the first unit of firefighters is supposed to arrive within four minutes of the call, according to national standards. The rest of the crew is supposed to arrive within eight minutes. 

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The Cornelius fire chief told town commissioners they are not meeting the standard.

“There is a problem with the call processing time," Barbee said at the budget meeting on Thursday. It was streamed so the public could watch. "So, the time that the phone is picked up at 911 to the time that they actually dispatch the call is below minimum standards."

Currently, the Cornelius Fire Department is able to respond within five to six minutes. Barbee said seconds, even minutes, could be shaved off if the dispatch system is upgraded.

Right now, all 911 calls are routed to the dispatch center in Cornelius Police Headquarters. Anyone who needs fire or MEDIC is then transferred to the Mecklenburg County dispatch center, and that’s where there could be a minute and a half delay.

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“Right now it has to be done by human dispatcher,” Barbee said. “They put the call into the system, the human dispatcher has to alert us and actually speak on the radio. If there’s multiple calls going off at once, you just get in the queue in line as they keep dispatching throughout the entire county.”

The chief asked for $80,000 in next year’s budget for station alerting upgrades, some of it to improve this system.

“Once it’s entered in the cad it automatically sends it to the fire station and you’re notified before the human dispatcher ever has time to react,” he said.

The proposed upgrade could save time when it matters most.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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