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Worth look to further 911 merger


Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters wasn’t expecting as impassioned a response as he received when he threw out the idea of merging local ambulance service dispatch with city-county dispatch.

But now that it’s out there, why not discuss it?

Peters sparked the debate about a week ago when he noted the efficiencies that were found when the long-overdue Fort Wayne-Allen County 911 dispatch center was created by merger. IPFW has since joined the Consolidated Communications Partnership.

The reception to Peters’ proposal from the executive director of the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority was anything but encouraging, however.

“I don’t see it speeding up response times or lowering our costs,” Gary Booher said. “I see a model that is working well, and sometimes we should leave things alone.”

That might have been the response from IPFW officials as well, if not for a budget shortfall. Until July 1, the university operated its own emergency dispatch, with five employees, but a search for savings lead to IPFW establishing a cooperative partnership with the city-county 911 center. The change doesn’t affect the campus police department, only the management of emergency calls and dispatch.

The new 911 call center is moving from the basement of the Rousseau Centre, formerly the City-County Building, to the sixth floor, which is being renovated. The city and county also are replacing the public safety communications system that powers the 911 response. The $17 million investment was necessitated by the federally required upgrade to a digital operating system.

Peters said in an interview that equipment issues involved in the upgrade are one reason that merger discussions should take place. Another is economies of scale: A certain number of dispatchers are needed to cover calls around the clock, but those dispatchers can handle some volume of additional calls without requiring more help.

Peters said the city and county might have been able to reduce the cost of the $17 million upgrade if an earlier effort had been made to bring together all the entities operating emergency management systems. The commissioner said there’s no formal proposal for merger with the ambulance authority, which is an appointed government board that hires a company to provide emergency medical services. But talks should happen.

He acknowledged that the merger might not lower TRAA’s costs but could reduce costs for taxpayers if the city-county 911 center can benefit from the economies of scale realized by dispatching ambulances directly instead of forwarding 911 calls to the TRAA dispatch.

“TRAA has become a kingdom unto itself,” Peters said. “Anything they can do to justify their independence they think is a feather in their cap. Unfortunately, they are doing it to the peril of their own operations and an appropriate bottom-line number.

“What (TRAA) will tell you is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – why change what we think is working pretty well? Well, let’s have some discussions, get people to the table and see if we can’t find some efficiencies.

“If there’s no benefit in combining operations,” he said, “We’ll pack our bags and go quietly.”