THORNVILLE — In an election year with the board of Perry County commissioners placing a levy on the ballot to fund the county’s 911 service, they probably don’t welcome dissension in the ranks of the county’s firefighters. But they’re getting it from the Thorn Township Fire Department. In a Monday morning meeting three firefighters and a township trustee aired their grievances about the Perry County 911 service and its director, Derrick Keyser.
Thorn township Trustee Bob Coleman, and Mike Tolliver and John Spohn, both captains for the fire department, voiced concerns over what they consider inefficiencies centering on a lack of training for dispatchers, as well as an inattention to concerns they have made in writing to the 911 center.
Another issue at the forefront of their dissatisfaction is a $15 mechanism fee the county commissioners have attached to any 911 calls that the Perry County center must transfer to the Licking County call center. Capt. Spohn reports that 25 per cent of 911 calls in Thorn Township go to Licking County. Where a 911 call is directed is determined by cell phone service tower locations.
Coleman says he has a contract on his desk for Licking County’s 911 call center to handle all calls from Thorn Township. However, the fee imposed by the Perry County commissioners has stalled the deal with Licking County. Thorn Twp. Fire Chief Jeremy Weekly says his department is willing to pay a $15 fee to Licking County for transferring 911 calls, but he does not think Thorn Township should be billed again by Perry County for the same call.
He went on to explain that Perry County would not lose any tax revenue if Thorn Township were serviced by Licking County 911. Weekly said Licking County has more dispatchers available to take calls and he believes they are better trained to reduce response times.
Capt. Tolliver cited several mistakes he claimed have slowed response times, including one where the Perry dispatcher allegedly did not know where a caller using a landline phone was located. The dispatcher mistakenly thought the caller was in Licking County and alerted the 911 call center there about the caller. The Licking County dispatcher relayed that the address was not in Licking County. The location was less than two miles from the Thorn Township fire station but it took over 15 minutes to reach the site.
“I’m getting tired of apologizing to people because our response time is much slower than it should be, especially when it’s not our fault,” Weekly said.
Another issue Spohn cited was failure to monitor an isolated channel during a fire or emergency. The use of an isolated channel reduces chatter taking place on lines being used by more than one fire company.
Run cards were another hot topic for Spohn. A run card pre-determines which station to call during a fire or other emergency when a particular piece of equipment not on the scene is needed. This automatically allows a dispatcher to hit the run card and send the message to the appropriate station. Licking County presently uses the run card system, according to Spohn, but Perry County does not, despite having access to the cards created by the Thorn Township Fire Department for five years.
Thorn Township passed a fire levy a few years ago that keeps four firefighters on duty at the station every day. Chief Weekly says his citizens are confused as to why another levy is needed to provide the 911 service. Tolliver says another complaint with response time has Thorn Township citizens asking if it would be better to call the Thorn station directly and bypass calling 911. Tolliver’s response to this question is to tell them to use the 911 system, but he understands their frustration.
“We are not against the levy,” clarified Coleman. “But we are very concerned about the lack of training for Perry dispatchers and the $15 mechanism fee the Perry County commissioners have placed on transfer calls to Licking County.”
Chief Weekly echoed Coleman’s opinion. “We believe our 911 service has bigger issues than funding at the moment,” says Weekly. “I am not against the levy, I guess the best way to describe my opinion is neutral.”
Coleman added that the population of Thorn Township has grown over 20 percent the last few years, and suggested that utilizing the Licking County 911 dispatch is the best way to provide the protection its citizens deserve.
“As long as the commissioners are holding us hostage with this mechanism fee, we can’t provide our citizens the protection we took an oath to follow,” stated Coleman.
The Perry County Commissioners believe the 911 levy on the ballot is the answer to funding the dispatch service as opposed to funding it through the county’s general fund as it is now. The Thorn Township faction believes that operational improvements should be addressed before a new way to fund the 911 center is put in place.
Voters will have the final say on Nov. 3, but whatever election day brings, the controversy between two groups who should be rowing the boat in the same direction may not go away.