By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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LOVES PARK — The Loves Park Fire Department will soon change who dispatches its 911 calls in an effort to improve efficiency and response times, potentially saving precious seconds on emergency calls.
For years, the city’s firefighters have been dispatched by RockCom, Mercyhealth’s communications center. When 911 calls come into the county sheriff’s 911 center, telecommunicators determine what agency is needed and contact RockCom if Loves Park firefighters are to be dispatched, Loves Park Fire Chief James Hart said.
“That creates a built-in delay in a 911 response,” Hart said. “This will cut down that lag of a phone call between a 911 call to the county and a dispatch of the fire department.”
Starting at 8 a.m. June 26, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s 911 Center will dispatch Loves Park firefighters.
“The whole focus is making sure we can get people the resources they need at a faster, more timely manner,” said Jen Fey, director of the county 911 center. “This is going to be huge for the community.”
The county 911 center is already responsible for dispatching all law enforcement agencies in Winnebago County outside the city of Rockford. Fey said they expect to add more rural fire agencies in the future.
RockCom provides 24/7 dispatching services for multiple agencies, including the Durand Fire Department, Shirland Fire Department, Metro Ambulance, Pecatonica Fire Department, Win-Bur-Sew Fire Department, North Park Fire Department, Rockton Fire Department and South Beloit Fire Department.
“Not that they have ever done a bad job, it just really is about efficiency,” Hart said.
The change could save an important few seconds on response time to fires, heart attacks, strokes or other medical emergencies, he said.
“The goal is it’s going to save 30 seconds to a minute on every 911 call, which is really huge,” Hart said. “We all know in a stroke in particular that time equals brain. Every second counts. So we have to cut that down.”
Loves Park City Council members voted earlier this month to approve an agreement with Winnebago County to provide dispatch services.
The agreement states that Loves Park will pay $15 for every call dispatched by the 911 center. Hart said the cost is in line with what Loves Park pays RockCom. With roughly 4,100 emergency calls for Loves Park Fire last year, the annual cost will be roughly $61,500.
Related: A rescue in the City with a Heart: Fast response saves Loves Park worker from cardiac arrest
The county 911 center is short-staffed now, but Fey said it’s capable of taking on the additional dispatch work.
The center is intended to be staffed with 24 telecommunicators. Right now, there are 11 working full-time with eight in training. Fey said they are hiring to fill the remaining open positions and will add even more staff if the county takes on additional rural fire department dispatch duties.
Fey and Hart said the city and county have been discussing the change for roughly two years.
“The whole impetus of this is about efficiency and what’s best for the community,” Hart said.