Fire chief wants speedier electric response

Posted 12/9/10

“It's a huge, huge problem,” Darrah said.

Powell Electric Superintendent Larry Carter said one of the instances was a fluke, when a truck battery died. But other than changing how quickly the department is dispatched, Carter said he …

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Fire chief wants speedier electric response


The Powell Fire Chief wants the city of Powell's Electric Department to respond more quickly to after-hour emergencies.Fire Chief Joey Darrah said that twice last month, firefighting efforts were hampered by slow responses from the electrical department.

“It's a huge, huge problem,” Darrah said.

Powell Electric Superintendent Larry Carter said one of the instances was a fluke, when a truck battery died. But other than changing how quickly the department is dispatched, Carter said he does not know how to expediate response times in general.

Carter said the department typical shoots for a 15- to 20-minute response on after-hours calls.

But Darrah countered, “That's too long. That's ridiculous.”

He said the electric department's response shouldn't be much longer than the fire department's.

Darrah said with a 15 to 20 minute response, “We might as well not even go (to a fire call).”

Carter disagreed.

“To me, that's not a slow response time,” he said.

Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers said city policy states all on-call city employees must respond within 15 minutes.

“If it's 15 or less, that's acceptable to the city of Powell. If it's more than that, it's not,” he said.

He said 15 minutes is reasonable, though while watching a house burn, “15 minutes seems like an eternity.” Still, Feathers said he didn't think responses could get much faster.

Carter said all of the department's workers live out of town; one lineman lives three and a half miles out.

“I can't make my guys live in the city and live right next to the fire department,” he said.

He noted that an on-call worker, when paged, has to get dressed, drive into town, unlock the gate to the electrical shop and get the department's vehicle before responding to a fire.

Carter also said electric workers are not legally designated as emergency responders and therefore can't speed or run through stop lights and signs when responding to the shop for a call.

“We can't make traffic move or anything else,” he said.

Darrah stressed that he doesn't fault the linemen, who he knows respond as quickly as they can.

“It's the process, not the people,” he said.

On Nov. 28, firefighters waited about 20 minutes for city electrical workers to arrive and kill power to a North Day Street home on fire. That call had come in just after 8:30 p.m. on that Sunday night.

However, that delayed response was an oddball, Carter said — the alternator powering the electric department's truck failed, causing a dead battery and a delay.

Darrah also said the fire department waited roughly a half-hour for city electrical workers during a Nov. 18 fire in an electrical box inside a South Evarts Street home. That call came in around 6:25 p.m. on a Thursday.

The fire had to be suppressed with chemical extinguishers until power was killed and the department used water; Darrah estimated the fire was about five minutes away from getting out of control.

“I don't know how many fire extinguishers we went through trying to put that fire out,” he said.

When asked about the delay in that instance, Carter said that, in general, the department has to wait for dispatchers in Cody, who page the Powell firefighters, to contact Powell dispatchers, who page city electric crews.

“It's just one more middle man in it,” he said.

Darrah said he doesn't believe dispatching is the problem.

In separate interviews, communications supervisors for dispatching in Powell and Cody also said they did not believe the split dispatching was problematic.

Monte McClain, communications supervisor for the Park County sheriff's office, said dispatchers in Powell and Cody and responding firemen work together to make sure utilities — including city of Powell electric — are promptly notified.

Teri Cozzens, communications supervisor for the Powell Police Department, said she knows there is a time lag between fire and electric being summoned, but she doesn't believe it's lengthy enough to be a problem.

In the Nov. 18 fire, dispatch records show there was a gap totaling about eight minutes between the time the fire department was paged by the Park County Sheriff's Office and the time the electrical department was notified by Powell Police.

Two of those minutes passed from the time the call came into the sheriff's dispatch center to when Powell police dispatchers were notified, Feathers said; Powell dispatch notified the city electric department six minutes after that.

Darrah said city electric crews' responses have not been an issue historically or during normal working hours. For example, at an 11:30 a.m. South Ferris Street house fire on Nov. 30, electric department workers beat fire responders to the scene.

Darrah and Carter both said they would like the system set up so that whenever there's a structure fire in Powell, city electric is automatically dispatched.

“I would like to see us called anytime there's a structure fire in town — immediately,” said Carter.

For his part, Feathers said his position on changing dispatching protocols is, “Let's do what works.”

In Cody, the city's on-call electrical workers carry fire pagers for after-hour calls.

The electrical workers listen in to the page and decide if it's something they need to respond to or not, said Cody Public Works Director Steve Payne.

If city electric doesn't respond and is needed, the fire department can request their assistance, Payne said.

Darrah said the fire department would be happy to provide the electrical crews with a pager.

“That's an idea, too,” Carter said.