Dane County board members taking advice from 911 center in South Carolina

Dane County looks to best 911 center in country for advice on improving response times
Dane County board members taking advice from 911 center in South Carolina
911 Center, Charleston County, South Carolina

As the Dane County Board of Supervisors prepares to take a vote next week to change how the 911 Center should be governed, its political peers in Charleston County, South Carolina are offering caution.

The Charleston County 911 Consolidated Dispatch Center struggled with slow call answer times and dispatching emergency crews before making dramatic changes to meet national standards over the last two years. News 3 traveled there in search of solutions to the similar problems recently uncovered at the Dane County 911 Center, which has not been close to performing at national standard levels in recent years.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi calls the current 911 Center Board, comprised of EMS directors, fire chiefs and police chiefs, “clunky” in responding to change. He has asked the county board to shift its responsibilities for policies and procedures at the 911 Center to the county. Charleston County, which is roughly the same population and fields roughly the same number of 911 calls as Dane County, is currently governed by a board of emergency responders with county officials providing the funding.

“Although (the County) Council controls the budget, we want these people’s input because they do the day-to-day operations,” said Teddie Pryor, Sr., the president of the Charleston County Council. “You have to remember it’s about the people. It’s not about the politicians. It’s not about the directors. It’s about the people and saving lives.”

“If you ask me about politics, I’ll be able to give you a greater answer, better than someone who’s an EMS director or someone who’s a fire chief, but when it comes to saving lives, you got to go to the first responders and those people who know best,” said Pryor.

Charleston County 911 Director Jim Lake said he initially was skeptical about having “customers” in the form of first responders in addition to serving the public and the politicians. However, he said it’s “been a lot easier than I would have anticipated.”

The Charleston County officials say the makeup of the 911 Board has broken down walls that once existed between the county sheriff, local police departments and various fire departments in their community. Further, it’s encouraged conversations with the politicians about needs in the community.

“It’s two completely different approaches–with the first responders and the politicians,” said Charleston Asst. Fire Chief Mark Smith. “It’s quality of service and a lot of times, it’s looking at the bottom dollar. The bottom dollar and quality of service do not always go well together. Police, fire and EMS do not make money. We’re a burden on the tax system but we still have to provide the best service that we can. Ultimately, the fire chiefs, the police chiefs, the EMS directors, they know what is best for the citizens. They just have to be given the latitude to do that.”

The ordinance to change the governing of the Dane County 911 Center was passed by a county committee earlier this week.