01STOCK_AMBULANCE_GENERIC3

ELKHORN

A committee looking at fire and emergency medical services in Walworth County is calling for the creation of a consolidated dispatch center to cover services countywide.

The Walworth County Fire/EMS Study Committee was created to research options for strained departments. It held its first meeting in March 2017, and on Nov. 25 it approved a set of recommendations. It also voted to check back into matters in about six months.

The first of those recommendations was for a dispatch center that would operate independently from the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, which calls its dispatch the Walworth County Communications Center.

That office oversees more than two dozen police and fire/rescue departments throughout the county. Whitewater and Lake Geneva have their own dispatch services, and Delavan is transitioning to the sheriff’s office, said Bruce Vander Veen, chief of the Sharon Fire/EMS Department and a member of the study committee.

The committee’s recommendation also calls for the consolidated center to report to the county administrator as an independent department.

The study committee’s recommendations are not binding.

Vander Veen said Thursday it’s more likely in the near future to see some departments consolidate services—such as what his department is working to do with Darien and Walworth—than a countywide consolidation anytime soon.

Ideally, he said, they eventually would get to one dispatch center handling everything, as is done in Rock County.

In the meantime, the committee suggested the current 911 governing board be modified to include fire/EMS and law enforcement professionals. It also wants that board to include duties such as encouraging and developing common protocols, as well as making recommendations.

Vander Veen said there won’t be a silver bullet to fix the problems facing the field—increased call volume complicated by a reduction in volunteer numbers and available volunteer time to respond to calls.

He said while some expected the county to come in, take over and fix everything, that will not be happening.

Various agencies have different issues that likely will require localized solutions.

And, he said, finding those solutions will require solid leadership from local officials.

“There’s not going to be a big father figure (to) come in and solve all the problems,” he said.

Other recommendations from the committee include:

  • Installing GPS devices on all ambulances, including private ones contracted in the county.
  • Encourage all law enforcement officers, who usually are first on the scene of emergencies, to receive first-responder training. Vander Veen said it takes about 50 hours and is more than the first-aid training most officers have.
  • Encourage fire and EMS departments to support using the ProPhoenix fire module countywide to help with information sharing on the same system.
  • Encourage agencies to assess their response data in line with National Fire Protection Association standards and share with local officials.
  • Encourage all places that answer 911 calls to generate regular reports of response times to share with county committees.
  • Encourage regional cooperation in evaluating resources and utilizing county funds, if some are allocated.

The study committee at its November meeting chose not to dissolve and instead scheduled to meet again at 10 a.m. June 3.

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