One of the first to speak at the Central Yavapai Fire Department Board meeting was Prescott Valley Mayor Harvey Skoog; and he was not very supportive of the idea that CYFD should withdraw from the Prescott Regional Communication Center in order to start a dispatch center of their own.
Speaking as a private citizen, Skoog pointed out that the CYFD is "...already one of the most expensive fire departments I've checked into."
By Skoog's calculations, this new plan would bring the cost of the CYFD services to nearly $300 for every man, woman and child in the area.
Gary Marks, the Prescott Valley Economic Development Director explained that every time taxes are raised, it becomes that much more difficult to attract and keep businesses in town. "Every time there's a tax increase we move farther down the list," he stated.
Then Marks pulled out a copy of the CYFD Strategic Plan and noted that a new dispatch center was not mentioned at all. "So it sounds like the Strategic Plan... will not be followed."
Marks also states that the Board operated without open communication, "I have to say that it was totally non-transparent."
At that point, Board Member Tony Reiter asked if Marks was asking a question he could answer. Marks replied by asking about the strategic plan, and Reiter agreed, but the conversation got a bit testy after that. (see video)
Reiter said that their concerns had to do with customer service, response times and fire fighter safety. He also claimed that this decision should not affect taxes, to which the audience laughed derisively.
Prescott Valley Vice-Mayor Don Tjiema spoke representing the Council and as a former Phoenix fire fighter. He said he felt as if the CYFD board was not sitting in front of the public in good faith. He had attended one negotiation meeting between CYFD representatives and PRCC representatives. In his opinion, he didn't think that CYFD was willing to negotiate in good faith, "The atmosphere in the room, though tense at first, kind of like this one, seemed to be moving towards an amicable solution to bettering the already established regional communications system. All of the newly established Chiefs of their respective department, Chiefof the Prescott Police Department, Interim Chief of the Fire Department, Prescott Valley Police Department, and Prescott Valley Fire Department had all agreed that forming an executive committee made up of the same... could bring remedy to these said displeasures. It seemed as though a mutual accord had been constructed, until Chairman Range sucked the air out of the room with his comment that he didn't 'feel' satisfied by the meeting. To tell you that his personal feelings rocked the room, would be an understatement."
Drawing on his experience as a fire fighter, he told them, "I have worked under a CAD system that was held in high regard by the Chief... bear witness to the many false calls that we responded to... we are focusing on the purchase of equipment thinking that some computer program is going to cause a lesser effect on false information being given and received by human beings. It wasn't true in the Phoenix Department, and I predict it won't happen here."
Tjimea concluded by saying, "Gentlemen, it is all about character and reputation. Which up to now, CYFD has worked hard to maitain in the public... You can agree to fix what is broken or spend taxpayer's money on a dream... Again, it is all about character and reputation. Will yours be respected by the citizens you vow to represent, or will you serve your own embedded desires and feelings?"
The audience again applauded loudly.
Several other people spoke, encouraging the CYFD Board to work things out with the PRCC organization.
"Don't go spending a bunch more money," was the theme of many other people's comments.
But, CYFD Captain Alex McKinnon spoke passionately in favor of the new dispatch center, saying they built the system themselves and saved the taxpayers millions of dollars. "Have courage, be brave, do the right thing and vote for this dispatch center," he pleaded, stating about the PRCC system, "That one's not working for us."
While most of the comments centered around the cost of the new system some people brought up other points.
One lady, Lisa (didn't catch her last name) said that she used Google to search for the company being recommended to provide the service, Keystone Public Safety, Inc., and found Google warned, "Thsi site may harm your computer." She then asked how they could expect a good product from a company that couldn't even put forth a safe website. "It does not appear that you've done the proper research," she noted.
Retired CYFD Fire Chief Mike Parrish found while he was working for the department in 2008 that an independently owned and run was not feasible, largely due to cost. He pointed out that the economy has not improved that much since 2008, and recommended they simply stop.
Debbie Horton, a candidate for the Central Yavapai Fire District Board in the upcoming election, asked that everyone who did not want this dispatch center to raise their hands. In response, the vast majority of the more than 100 people in attendance raised their hands, although the 20 or so CYFD fire fighters standing in the back of the room did not.
A resident of Walker told the Board, "If you do this, we'll be part of your collateral damage... Your departure does not fix the problems, we need someone to stand up and fix them."
CYFD EMS Training Coordinator and Paramedic Captain David Tharp, who admitted to being both a registered Republican and the Union Chapter President, said that he thinks that he and other fire fighters are to blame for not being honest about the situation. "We've left you [the public] out of the loop," he said. "We will accept whatever decision the Fire Board makes."
Perhaps the most touching comments came from Louie Lizza, a retired New York Police Officer. He shared how he was there on 9/11, when the Twin Towers were struck by terrorists. "I carried a bunch of dead firemen," Lizza said. And one of the problems they encountered in that situation was that all the departments were on different dispatch systems, and they "...lacked the ability to communicate with each other."
Lizza urged them to "resolve the problems."
What About 911?
One of the issues regarding a new dispatch system is that it will not be immediately approved to accept 911 calls. As a matter of fact, according to Steve Rutherford, another candidate for the Fire Board, it is not likely a new dispatch system will ever be approved for 911. After the meeting, he provided his notes researching this issue:
My primary source of information contained in this email is Barbara Jaeger. Ms. Jaeger works for the State of AZ. Her title is “State 911 Administrator.” Her department oversees funding for all PSAPs in AZ. She has 39 years’ experience in administering 911 systems. She is President of the National Emergency Number Association. She is a recognized national expert on 911 systems. Information provided to me by Ms. Jaeger:
- Public Safety Answering Points or PSAPs are where 911 calls are routed.
- 2 PSAPs in the Prescott area; YCSO and PRCC.
- 87 PSAPs in AZ currently funded by the State.
- No more PSAPs will be funded by the State of AZ. The State is encouraging consolidation of existing PSAPs not creating more.
- The source of funding for Ms. Jaeger’s department and the PSAPs they support is excise tax from phone and wireless bills.
- No contact from CYFD with Ms. Jaeger’s department regarding their plans to create a new PSAP or communication center.
Questions and concerns raised by Ms. Jaeger:
- Does CYFD intend to be a primary PSAP? If so, how do they intend to fund the 911 piece (“very expensive”)? If not, then critical information such as X, Y coordinates (how emergency responders locate where they need to go) will be verbally communicated by phone, from the PSAP dispatcher receiving the call, to a CYFD dispatcher. This would be going back 20 years in dispatching technology. Either way, response times will be longer.
- Cost and time line to create a PSAP or communication center vary depending on size and anticipated call volume but will cost millions of dollars and take 12 to 18 months to be up and operating.
- There aren’t enough dispatchers to adequately staff the existing centers and now there will be increased competition for qualified workers.
- Technology is expensive and changes very rapidly. Costs to keep up are more easily shared among agency partners than borne by individual agencies.
Other points Rutherford brought up included the source of the funding (reserve funds) and spending money that isn't even in their budget.
"We need diverse perspectives at the Board level, more representative of our CYFD residents," Rutherford said. He urged them to get PRCC to agree to extend the termination timeline, so that the issue can be debated in front of the public.
"Then let the voters decide in November who they want to lead the district."
And More Comments:
Prescott Valley Councilman Mike Whiting took note of some procedural issues, and also pointed out that this move was not supported by local municipal partners. He noted that the total cost after the initial year was a big unknown; also suggested getting a mediator to help find solutions.
Former Councilmember Tom Steele spoke about the costs, stating, "We look at them as property taxes you look at them as a revenue stream."
Steven Graber said that he had supported what the district was doing in regards to regional cooperation, but that this was, "Taking a step away from regional cooperation."
We supported what this district was about and the regional cooperation
Jack Fowler told the Board, "Don't bankrupt the taxpayer."
Christy Anderson, wearing a shirt that said, "Flagstaff Fire Fighters" asked, "How many CYFD line-of-duty deaths in 7 years since the PRCC took over the dispatch duties?"
Noting that the answer is zero, and as a matter of fact there have been no line-of-duty deaths in the last seven years for any department, Anderson suggested the issue of safety had no foundation. She asked that they spend a week at the PRCC dispatch center to see for themselves why things happen the way they do.
She said she believed they had already made up their minds and have "...lost my vote."
Jennifer Wyatt was the only non-firefighter to stand up for the plan. Stating that she just wanted safety for her family members, she said, "I think you have a reasonable position... If it takes getting a new system I support you."
Karen Hunt spoke of the ongoing expense for staffing and asked, "If you choose this [the new dispatch center] which one of these EMT and fire fighters are you going let go?"
Saying she had to pay about $465 this quarter, Hunt said, "I would rather see my tax dollars go to these heroes than this project."
Brian Silvernale commented, "If you don't know where the funds are coming from you are not qualified to vote on this project."
Chairman John Range explained his concerns and somewhat unexpected decision.
Chairman Range Responds, the Board Votes
Finally, Chairman John Range took the floor, and asked the audience to afford him the same courtesy in speaking that the Board gave to the citizen speakers earlier. He thanked the audience for coming, and reviewed some of the issues that, from his position, had lead to this situation. Citing safety issues, concerns about management and the lack of input from CYFD, nonetheless he said he would recommend that the Board notify PRCC they would stay and work on the differences.
The other Board members each spoke, but in the end, they acquiesced to the residents and all the related motions died for lack of a motion.
Here are video clips of some of the comments and the final discussion by the Board.
4. OLD BUSINESS
A. Update on Emergency Communication Center Business Plan for Discussion and Action
B. Review and Approve Agreement for Purchase of an Information Management System, Associated Products and Services, Which Includes Annual Maintenance and Related Fees; Authorizing the Purchase of a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) System and a Records Management System and Related Software. Items to be Purchased Using Previously Budgeted Funds for ArcGis and Staffing Software and Non-budgeted Capital Reserve Funds, All for the Communications/Dispatch Center.
Died for lack of a motion.
C. Review and Approve the Purchase of Infrastructure/Equipment for the Communications/ Dispatch Center, to be Purchased Using Non-budgeted Capital Reserve Funds
Died for lack of a motion.
D. Review and Approve Using Personnel Contingency Funds in the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 Budget for Personnel Costs for the Communications/Dispatch Center
Died for lack of a motion.
E. Approve Agreement with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. for Legal Services