Letters to the Editor

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911: Past time to upgrade system

Letter by Kurt A. Weihs, Spanaway on Oct. 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm with 31 Comments »
October 20, 2011 12:17 pm

I work for West Pierce Fire and Rescue as a 911 dispatch supervisor. I have worked in the field for over 25 years.

1. Despite what the “No” campaign would have you believe, there are many dispatchers who support Proposition 1. My own guild and IAFF Local 31 have voted to endorse the proposition. We represent over 95 percent of the fire and EMS dispatchers in Pierce County.

2. Our facilities are severely overtaxed. They were never designed to support the power drain we place on them today. The simple act of plugging in a vacuum cleaner has taken my 911 center offline for hours. They were never designed to house the number of employees we have today. We have to place tarps over our radio equipment so that rainwater seeping through cracks doesn’t fry million dollar electronics.

3. We use a radio system that was fine for 1985, but today we daily deal with units that are unable to reach or hear us. A few weeks ago we had a house fire in the Eatonville area where we were unable to hear some transmissions. If someone had become trapped we’d have never heard it. The firefighters and paramedics I dispatch are at risk.

Passing Proposition 1 will build badly needed dispatch facilities in a responsible, efficient way. Our radios will be brought into the 21st century. All for the cost of less than a penny for every latte you buy.

Leave a comment Comments → 31
  1. stetsonwalker says:

    If you think your facility is over taxed, you should see mine!

  2. Pecksbadboy says:

    You must be too young to remember that the 911 system proposed and won and initiative to have a regular tax increase so you would not need to go back to the voters every few years for this kind of thing.

    What did you do blow all this money on team building vacations and sending employees to funerals and not where it was suppose to go?

  3. JimmyEOlson says:

    The difference between my “latte” and your tax is that I get to choose what syrup goes into mine. Your tax tells me that you need 15 million a year and when I ask “for what?” you tell me to shut up and pay it because firefighters and police officers will certainly die if I do not vote in favor. BTW, it wasn’t my idea for West Pierce to agree to dispatch for Eatonville! That was your org.’s brilliant idea. Aside from new equipment this new tax does nothing to change the way the process works: you still get your fire dept. calls screened and get to handle 1/8th the number of calls the police dispatchers handle, in addition to handling yours first. When the fire depts. start operating like the rest of public agencies (i.e. being paid to sleep) come back to me.

  4. Of course your facility is overtaxed. Dispatch is the last thing the police/fire departments care about or want to spend their money on. They couldn’t care less if you can vacuum or if you have to sit with buckets and tarps. Of course, if THEY had to work in conditions like that they would be outraged, their unions all over it and, surprise, the money would be found to make the necessary improvements.

    Now they are acting like they care about Communication Centers when all they care about is covering a huge, necessary expense without giving up anything themselves.

    If Prop 1 was only about new 911 centers, they wouldn’t be blowing tens of thousands of dollars to campaign for it.

    I do not dispute radios need to be updated and buildings need to be improved, but Prop 1 goes so far beyond that it isn’t even funny. They are banking on this tax bringing in up to 600 million dollars, allowing them to take the money they currently spend on 911 services and diverting it to the general fund for any project they want.

    Knowing they have the money and have entered into contractual agreements to cover the radio upgrade should Prop 1 fail, shows me what a huge scam this is.

    Vote NO on Prop 1. http://www.rejectprop1.com

  5. menopaws says:

    On November 11, 2005—-someone tried to kick in my front door. I called your 911 system and got no answer……..thinking I dialed wrong, I dialed again………It rang 34 TIMES…and was NEVER picked up. My dog came to my rescue with some intense growling and barking and the intruder took off. The only explanation I got was a “shift change problem on Veterans Day”. This, after 3 days of denial that I ever called—then someone in Emergency Management told me who to call and said that my calls would be denied as on any record…….which of course, he found……….The worst 911 system in the United States and you think throwing money at it will solve the problem?? How about some firing of those who have not spent taxpayer $$$ wisely or well……Your adminstrative problems are legendary………No more money until you do some serious house cleaning.

  6. crocodopolis says:

    Government demands for more money = another “NO” vote from me.

    From the recent video feeds of law enforcement officers beating, pepper-spraying, punching, and dragging by the hair United States citizens engaged in peaceful and lawful protest, I’d say what’s lacking is something other than adequate funding.

    Perhaps they should hit up CitiCorp for some donations. They seem to have plenty of money for the NYPD.

  7. stetson…according to a comment made by you on these threads, you are enjoying the fruits of the Federal government’s(Democratic Congresspersons in particular)good will towards unemployed workers.

    It seems just a bit hypocritical to complain about taxes in that position.

  8. You still haven’t made a good case for a permanent tax.

    If we need new radios, then let’s float a bond issue to just pay for the new radios. We don’t need a permanent tax!!!!!

  9. stetsonwalker says:

    “enjoying the fruits”

    I guess that is a way to look at it…”enjoying”, but I do not think that would have been the verb I would have chosen though….

  10. BrickTamland says:

    Maybe Kurt can answer a couple questions:

    Why should we not go a system like Valley Com, with cross-trained Police/Fire dispatchers and call receivers, that is faster and cheaper than the proposed Pierce County system? The system you’re proposing will lead to increased call processing times and higher costs than Valley Com.

    Parts of Auburn and Pacific are in Pierce County and are already served by Valley Com. Why shouldn’t the rest of Pierce County get the same high level of service at lower cost that parts of Auburn and Pacific do? Why are we spending more to get less?

  11. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    Kurt says, “Our facilities are severely overtaxed”.

    That was my line, I am the one taxedenough.

    When 1183 passes the state will save 100 million that will go to public safety. Let’s use those saving to upgade the 911 system, NOT raise the sales tax.

    We pay enough in taxes, NO MORE!!!! Vote NO. If this is such a priorty why can’t the county find the needed money? Must not be that important.

  12. stetsonwalker says:

    A little off subject but here is a nice youtube vid about the Chelan ferry…


  13. MadTaxpayer says:

    We need to throw the BS flag on this one! LESA is one of the worst managed orginizations in Pierce County/City of Tacoma. Look who works there. Rejected employees from the City and County.
    Tacoma Fire Dispatch is almost as bad. Since when do you pay Dispatchers to “sleep” on duty?
    The City and County have an estimate of $105 million for each of 2 seperate Comm or 911 centers.
    And toss in up to $45 million to the City of Tacoma for an EOC? You have got to be kidding!
    Both have known for years about the new radio requirments.
    Another tax and spend program!
    Just say no to crack, I mean TAX!

  14. Well, That’s it since your own guild and IAFF Local I must vote to raise my taxes more that the 911 tax I already pay. Kurt I know no one who will vote yes. The county already taxes us on 911 just because your boss doesn’t know how to manage your budget is no reason for anyone to pay more

  15. nwcolorist says:

    There’s definitely a need to upgrade the system. Unfortunately, the current solution is way out of proportion to the need.

    This is similar to Pierce County Transit’s over the top request for a tax increase last February.

    Vote No on Prop 1. The dispatchers can always come back with a more realistic proposal.

  16. nwcolorist: Prop 1 isn’t being proposed by the dispatchers, they are just being used as pawns, as usual, by the higher ups.

    This plan has nothing to do with better communication needs, interoperability or cost savings. It has everything to do with PCSO and their desire to control it all, no mattter the cost.

    Hopefully all the facts will come out about this devious, backhanded deal before it’s too late and we are saddled with a 600 million dollar tax and a “new” system that is far from innovative.

  17. Really911 says:

    Swimmom is right, the readers should know that that the proponents of Proposition one can’t even run a campaign that is legal and above board. They steal our signs daily, they don’t knock them over, they steal them and put their signs in place of ours, they come to my home and spray paint the signs that are on my fence and when that doesn’t cover well enough they cut them off the poles. All this is not enough they put an error in the voters pamphlet saying the tax increase is .01 of one percent instead of .1 to make it look like a fraction of what it really is. And then say it is just a typo but they well put something on the county website making the correction. How many readers here go read the county web site ? If you think I am being dramatic or exagerating, watch the signs in the area wherre you drive, work, shop or do business. Vote No signs keep disappearing and theirs are not. It is not enough that those that will gain millions from the passage of prop 1 are spending 10’s of thousands of dollars to get this past the voters, they steal from us. Which by the way is a federal offense, so those doing this are criminals and will one day be caught.
    Never again will I vote to approve one of their levys. Nothing is ever enough when you have such of a sense of entitlement as they do.

  18. octobernight says:

    Fire levies passed. If I-1183 passes you stand to gain millions from it and yet you still want MORE?? How much is enough?? When is it going to end?? This poorly designed plan does nothing to increase public safety and only benefits those who have conceived it. It’s nothing more than a funnel for our tax dollars to the pockets of those who want to control the entire county. VOTE NO ON PROP 1!!

  19. Fire Comm should have used the monies from 911 that they recieved from Pierce County 911 funds to upgrade thier breakrooms & offices to fix their Fire Dispatch Center & equipment. 911 does not need to be fixed it is working good, what needs to be fixed is control of the monies that Citizens are tax. Monies where avalible after 9-11 for agencies to upgrade their radio’s & Communication Centers. Both Fire Comm, Tacoma Fire Dispatch & LESA both failed to use the monies they received to take care of problems with radio’s for both Officers, Firefighters & all of their vehs & emergency rigs. VOTE NO PROP 1

  20. chhannon says:

    Local fire & police departments have plenty of money. If 911 is broken, then it is due to poor leadership for failing to make it a priority in their budgets. Don’t make us pay more taxes to fix poor planning on the part of public safety officials. VOTE NO ON PROP 1!!

  21. The author tries to make this sound like it is such a dire need. But the fire department has built 3 brand new fire stations in the Graham area in the last 2 or 3 years. They turned volunteer stations into brand new fully staffed stations. If their comm center is in such horrible shape and in such disrepair that we need to consider it an emergency. Why didn’t they? This plan also includes a new EOC for the fire department.
    While their radios definately need to be upgraded to meet the federal mandate. They should have considered this a priority over building new stations. Especially if they are going to tell you that it is an officer safety and fire fighter safety issue.
    Now they want to overtax us to pay for what has not been a priority to them. They want hundreds of millions of dollars to do what they could do with 30 million.
    The county needs to learn to prioritize at their level before they come to the tax payer and ask us to fund their failures.

  22. daggercat says:

    I wasn’t sure how I was going to vote on prop 1, but some very good points have been made. I find it odd that after 911 the county didn’t take advantage of Federal money to upgrade. Sounds like the poor management others are talking about. Also hadn’t looked closely enough to realize this was a permenant tax, (for real?) So, with the majority of posters having made valid arguments against, I will be voting no. I still encourage others to vote no on 1183. Sorry, taxedenough. This is still an ill conceived initiative that once enacted, would be hard to repeal.

  23. I’m going to vote NO on this one for a number of reasons. First, i beilieve we already pay taxes to fund 911 service. Secondly, I read in a previous article that the county already has a way of paying for the federally required upgrades without rasing the taxes, and indeed as a resident of puyallup its also my understanding we have already met these new requirements without any additional taxes being imposed on us. It would be unfair for us who dont use South Sound 911’s service to have to pay for it. Finally, We need to stop relying on the sales tax for everything. I find it disgusting that after the voters rejected Pierce Transit’s prop 1, that the county promptly goes out and asks for another sales tax upgrade. To make matters even more disgusting, is that the TNT supports this propsition 1, yet soundly rejected Prop 1 for Transit. While 911 may be a nessasary community service, The county leaders need to go back, and find a way to fairly pay for the service by those who use it (or force everyone to use the new system), and find a better method of fairly and appropratly taxing for its services without lots of new construction to drive the cost of the service up.

  24. taxedenoughintacoma says:

    not a problem daggercat, still like you. Well thought out on Prop 1. I like well informed voters. Yes, I was on the fence on 1183 but found more good than bad. Also told my my legislator that this was a good deal for taxpayers and the legislature could never pass a better deal becauce of state worker union campaign donations.

    I guess they need voters to do their dirty work for them on 1183. Please reconsider your vote on 1183 and vote yes.

  25. The permanent tax part was enough for a no vote for me,but if it had been a temporary tax that also would have been no, as the legislators confuses temporary with infinity.Take a close look at your next phone bill and see all the 911 charges that are listed.This will be an opening your eyes moment.Looking back at past elections, I detect a pattern that is disturbing to me.That pattern is,it seems there are items that are put to the voters that always seem to pass,such as,more taxes for Schools,Police,Fire Departments and road improvements.The arguments always seem to be along the same old,panic the voters lines.Like, all the dire consequences that will happen if the voters don’t pass these issues.Has anyone else noticed the sky has not fallen yet?

  26. Another thought occured to me,it appears that when the voters vote no for any project,the ones that thought this would be passed with little opposition,will immediatly put the measure back on the next election calender.I guess they think if they hound the taxpayers long enough,eventually they will say yes.Believe it or not,sometimes this seems to work.

  27. rainiersnow says:

    Didn’t Firecom receive a huge amount of money for remodeling which includes sleeping quarters so your dispatchers can take naps while at work. Is it not true that your agency wanted the sleeping quarters so you could go to 24 hr shifts so you can sleep while at work and only work 8 or 9 days a month?
    Don’t you believe if all dispatchers were cross tained to handle police, fire and medical it would save the tax papers a lot of money?
    Don’t say that it can’t be done. If you listen to a fire department that recently went from an agency that did police, fire and medical to a dispatch center that only does fire, you will hear a lot of complaints from them on how they wish they could come back to where they once where. Why should a caller be transfered from one place to another. One call should do it all.
    Is it not true that your union is in negotiations to get you a huge pay raise if this passes and you merge with Tacoma Fire Dispatch? I don’t see this in your article.
    Is it not true that your agency, who does not receive 1/2 as many calls as a police agency, receives more money than police agencies who handle at least twice as many calls as you do? What did your agency do with that money?
    Did we the voters not just give the fire department more money in the last election?
    Let’s see an audit of all the 911 monies before the County asks for more. You will see it has gone to building a smoking hut for Pierce County, sleeping quarters and remodel for fire dispatchers, and who only knows what else.

    It is time for a NO vote. The system is not broke!

  28. Really911 says:

    Actually this agency handles only about 15% of the 911 calls and those are screened for them prior to transfer. Yet you get more of the E911 funds than at least 2 of the agencies screening those calls for you.

    It is time for the E911 funds to be audited. Kevin Phelps has finally admitted in todays TNT article that the E911 funds you currently pay via you phone bills, are going to be co-mingled with Proposition 1 funds if it passes. This should be subject to a lawsuit. These are 2 separate taxes. If they are co-mingled, it will allow Pierce County to control ALL the 911 funds. And allow for the agencies that choose not to be taken over to have no funding from either the E911 funds or the Sales tax. Yet ALL residents in Pierce County will pay.

  29. daggercat says:

    taxedenough, I find it refreshing to converse with someone who can state their opinions intelligently and with civility. Thank you. That said, ah the caveat!, did you see the Tacoma News Tribune editorial staff has now chosen to endorse NO on 1183. As I stated in another post, this initiative reminds me of the folly of mandating increases on the minimum wage. Should this initiative pass, I’m pretty sure we will see negative consequences down the road and be smacking ourselves upside the head with a big DUH!! what did you think would happen! Besides the immediate negative effects of job losses etc… I still think this is being shoved down our throats before business leaders and politicians have time to study all the potentials, good and bad. And I firmly believe the citizens of Washington State are the ones to decide how to market alcohol, not Costco. We may not like the state being in the alcohol business, but the model works for our state. It would take time to decide how to dismantle this system so it is right for Washington State, and this initiative does not allow for that time.

  30. daggercat says:

    Sorry to all who realize this posting is more appropriate on the 1183 thread, but I got caught up in wanting share a strong opinion and reply to taxenough. Whoops.

  31. Rainiersnow –
    For someone who seems to have access to a lot of information about our center it’s surprising how much of it you have wrong.
    1. Yes, we used money to repaint a room, replace worn carpet and extend an interior wall to create sleeping quarters. Was it a remodel? Hardly. Was it a “huge” amount of money? No.
    2. Combined police/fire/EMS dispatch better than specialized? In professional dispatch this debate hasn’t been settled yet let alone in a public forum. I believe that dispatchers trained for specific tasks rather than broadly trained dispatchers can do a better job. Fire and EMS is NOT police dispatching any more than firefighting is policework. I disagree with your statement. Is there an inherant delay in a two PSAP solution? Yes. A few seconds. Long enough for the LESA dispatcher to get on the line and state “Police, Fire, or Medical Aid?” When the person states fire or medical aid a button is pushed and we pick up the line. Typically, on the first ring. The only delay is the time it takes to push the button and for us to pick up the line.
    3. We are NOT negotiating at this time with anyone about any raise. In fact, our Guild just agreed to concessions that have resulted in no raise for the next two years despite a previous contract agreement for a Cost of Living Raise. I’m not sure where you are getting your facts but they are incorrect. I was limited to 250 words in my letter to the editor, there is a lot I would have loved to cover but was unable to due to space.
    4. Tracking of calls is performed differently in different centers. We do not give a case number to a lot of the calls that come into our call center unlike a police center where tracking of all calls is more necessary. Again, we perform a different service. Comparing a police center such as Puyallup to a Fire/EMS center like Fire Comm is apples to oranges. Fire Comm covers a much larger geographical area than Puyallup. Two of our fire districts are larger than 100 square miles each. Rainier, your argument exagerates the inequalities.
    5. The voters passed several levies in the county. I am not sure which one you refer to, but if you want to talk funds you need to talk to your individual fire department. Fire departments all over the county are operating at budgets far below what they have been in the past few years due to the decrease in property tax revenue. As far as I know, most of these departments are relying on these levy funds to keep their fire stations staffed and their fire engines/medics running.
    6. Audits – I don’t think any of Pierce County’s dispatch agencies are dodging any audits.

    There are a lot of other replies on here and there is obviously a lot of anger and accusations of falsehoods, exagerations, and hidden agendas. I work at the sharp end of the stick. I consider myself a well-informed professional in this field and I personally know most of the people who have been spending the last two years trying to make this proposition a reality. There are no hidden agendas. This is not a permanent tax. I, personally, believe that 911 dispatch needs a permanent funding stream but that is not part of South Sound 911. We have been making use of the grants provided by the federal government. Do I have concerns about SS911? Yes, it will represent a huge change to my profession. Change is always cause for concern, but change is coming one way or another. With one change we have a new revenue stream to help fund the massive expenses must be addressed in 2012 and 2016. With the other change I forsee layoffs, closed fire stations, and a decrease in my ability to provide the level of service the public has become accustomed to in Pierce County. I vote for the former change.

    Proposition 1 is an attempt to reorganize 911 dispatch in Pierce County so that money is more efficiently spent, so that dispatchers have the tools they need to perform their job, So that emergency service people that you depend on are able to do so with a dependable lifeline to their dispatch center and to other responders.

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