Two county 911 centers considering a merger -

Two county 911 centers considering a merger

(KMOV) -- Two dispatching operations in St. Louis County are working on merging their services, which would affect 23 fire departments in the county.

If the merger goes through, North Central Fire Alarm (which answers calls for 17 departments including Ferguson, University City, and Hazelwood) would move to Central County 911's operation in Ellisville, Missouri. Currently, Central County Emergency 911 handles calls for six St. Louis County Fire and EMS services, plus two in Franklin County.

Last year, the departments conducted a feasibility study. Right now, the emergency call centers are hammering out financial agreements.

St. Louis County's Emergency Communications Commission supports the merger. Garry Earls, the county's Chief Operating Officer and a member of the commission, says the merger would cut overhead costs for dispatching centers and improve staffing levels.

"The bigger you can make that, the larger group of people you can have on board at any given time, and the more assurance you can have that somebody is going to pick up the phone before the third ring," said Earls.

Mike Turner, executive director of Central County Emergency 911 said no layoffs were planned in the merger. Currently, Central County has 18 employees. North Central County has 14.

Two years ago, there were 28 public safety answering points. Three municipalities merged last year. If this merger is finalized, there would be 24 according to Earls.

KMOV asked if a dispatcher based in Ellisville could do as good of a job answering North County calls. For example, if a caller is dialing 911 from a cell phone and can't provide an address for an emergency in St. Ann, but could only describe landmarks. Could a dispatcher in West County figure it out?

Turner said that technology allows dispatchers to help callers determine their location.

Turner says the implementation date of the merger is September 1, 2012. Turner adds that the date is an "aggressive" estimate and that it's possible it would take longer to complete the merger.



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