Madison Fire Department officials have told their members to assign themselves to emergencies throughout the city if they think they can get somewhere quickly. This comes after the department has experienced numerous computer-related problems with the Dane County 911 Center.
"We may be sitting at State and Lake, but the computer sees us at Badger and Park," Madison Asst. Fire Chief Lance Langer said. "Our people know this city. We've told them to increase their diligence and listen to their radio. We've said, 'They may dispatch another vehicle that you know you're going to beat and you're closer, take the call and do what's best for the citizens.’"
Langer said there have been numerous calls recently where three or four Fire Department lieutenants and medics have arrived on the same scene due to the directive. He said management has told staff members they will not get in trouble on the back end for reacting too fast on the front end.
In the case of a fatal fire last October on Bridge Road along the Madison-Monona border that killed 51-year-old Chris Williams, an engine from the Williamson Street fire station saw the call on its computer and started out right away, realizing two closer crews were already on other calls. Even though it traveled a distance to get there, it arrived on scene first, before other engines that were closer.
"We can't do anything sitting in the station," Langer said. "We're going to err on sending more resources because we don't know exactly what's going on."
The computer-aided dispatch system at the 911 Center was installed in April 2013, after being recommended by the 911 Center Board and approved by the Dane County Board of Supervisors. It has been the subject of more than 100 complaints from the Madison Fire Department and the Madison Police Department since its implementation.