Dane Co. 911: Pre-alert protocol gets engines out 55 seconds faster

Madison Fire Department engines will be sent to all fire calls faster under a new policy implemented at the Dane County 911 Center.

The process called pre-alert, which had been in use the last year for structure and car fires, will now be expanded to every call the MFD is dispatched. Pre-alert is the difference between 911 communicators asking callers five questions under the old policy and now, just asking two questions, before sending help.

“When we call (911), we want help to get there as soon as possible,” said Josh Wescott, the chief of staff to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, whose office oversees the 911 Center. “All of those seconds and minutes matter, so that’s why we want as much as possible to get the help out quicker.”

Data showed pre-alerting active fire calls got Madison fire engines out the door on average 55 seconds faster. Firefighters believe expanding the program can only benefit the community.

“Fifty-five seconds with a fire truck going 40 mph is 3/4 of a mile or further. That’s a big difference,” Madison Assistant Fire Chief Lance Langer said. “The sooner we can get our responders there, the better the outcome is across the board, no matter what it is.

“This is definitely a huge step in the right direction of getting better.”

The new pre-alert protocol calls for 911 communicators to ask two questions to learn the nature of an emergency and where it is before sending help. They keep the caller on the line to get more information, but the crews are on the way. The old protocol in the Dane County 911 Center had callers answer five questions before they were asked what happened: What’s the address of the emergency? Verify the address? What phone number are you calling from? Verify the phone number? What’s your name?

Last fall, News 3 traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, to find solutions to some of the problems at Dane County’s 911 Center.

Charleston’s emergency responders saw a dramatic reduction in the time it took to get them out the door once their 911 operators implemented what they call, “quick dispatch.” That center is seen as a national example for 911 operations.