Hualapai Valley Fire begins work on rural dispatch center

With the help of a $125,000 grant, the Hualapai Valley Fire District is beginning a multi-year plan to develop the first rural fire district dispatch center in Mohave County.

The Arizona Department of Homeland Security awarded the grant last month, which will be part of the three-year funding process, for the center set to initially serve five fire districts.

In 2005, the Mohave County Fire Officer's Association established a committee to look into the creation of the center.

"Several of the fire districts have worked closely since the inception of this committee and have reached a point where this project can become a reality," HVFD Chief Wayne L. Eder said.

The fire district wasn't just handed $125,000. The Arizona Department of Homeland Security will reimburse the HVFD for money spent on the center within the next year up to $125,000.

The HVFD initially requested $215,000 from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. The fire district and state agency were able to come to a compromise with the initial grant and additional funding every year until the center is finished, HVFD Chairman Jimmie Bodenhamer said.

Beyond the HVFD, the fire agencies for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Chloride, Lake Mohave Ranchos and Truxton would initially use the centrally located dispatch center, Bodenhamer said. He added other fire districts and agencies have expressed interest in utilizing the center when it's completed.

"It is estimated that the new dispatch center will dispatch roughly 4,500 incidents the first year of operation, with an increase to 6,500 the second year as additional departments come on line," Eder said. "Within five years, it is expected that the center will dispatch approximately 10,000 calls per year."

The center will be located in HVFD Station No. 5, 9667 Concho Drive, in Valle Vista. It will be linked to a nearby repeater, allowing the transmission of radio signals throughout the system.

The HVFD station was chosen because it features a more than 660-square-foot former training room with male/female restroom facilities and office.

The HVFD hopes to save costs that can be used to purchase equipment by converting the currently unused area rather than building a new facility, Bodenhamer said.

They hope to start the remodel process in February, Eder said. The facility is scheduled to be fully operational during the summer of 2009.

The HVFD looked to the Sedona Fire District, which runs a similar operation for rural fire districts in Coconino and Yavapai counties.

"The goal is not to be as big as Sedona," Bodenhamer said. "The goal is to have a countywide dispatch. A professional dispatch center is better than a self-run one."

Started in 1986 as its own dispatch center with cardio pulmonary resuscitation and emergency-medical-dispatch-certified communications specialists, the SFD gradually added other agencies in 1998, Regional Communications Center Manger Terry Schleizer said. They have added one to two fire districts a year since then.

Using national protocols, the rural fire districts dispatch center in Sedona established uniform dispatch procedures for their coverage area. A key to that, and a suggestion Schleizer said she gave the HVFD, is to hold a meeting once a month with representatives from each fire district to address any problems or suggestions to improve the dispatch.

"It's a big thing to take on," Schleizer said, "but it's well worth it if it works well."

The SFD uses computer-aided dispatch, which is also planned for the center in Mohave County. The dispatch center will also house incident logs and dispatch recordings, Bodenhamer said.

The goal is to have two dispatchers on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the next three years, Eder said. Volunteer personnel will back up the staff in periods of high demand, he added.

Unlike the SFD, the dispatch center in Mohave County wouldn't be a primary 911 public safety answering point. That function is currently and will continue to be the responsibility of the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.

Once the MCSO receives a 911 call, the operators then route the calls to the individual fire districts. With no current uniform dispatch procedures, a rural fire dispatch center should help unify the responses and assist in mutual aid calls, Bodenhamer said.

The dispatch center should reduce response times by cutting the emergency call process time, Eder said. This will be especially evident in the event of a major incident or wildfires when many agencies are dispatched at once, he added.

The National Park Service has agreed to donate excess dispatch center equipment for the project, Bodenhamer said. The center will still need to purchase and install dispatch consoles, radios, telephone equipment, auxiliary power supplies, computers and software.

What will also help with the communications are grants received by the Chloride, the Hualapai Valley and the Lake Mohave Ranchos fire districts for new repeaters and a radio tower. They will facilitate the firefighters in being on the same frequency throughout their respective districts.

Reaping the rewards of the center comes with its costs. Each fire district served by the center will be responsible for providing funds for staffing and maintenance once the center is accomplished. Whether it's an annual fee or charge by call hasn't been determined yet, Bodenhamer said.

"Every one of the fire districts are owners in this," he added.