SIOUX CITY -- Fire Marshal Mark Aesoph compared the switch to an upgrade from a rotary phone to the latest iPhone or Android.
Sioux City Fire Rescue on Monday began using a new station alerting system to dispatch rescue calls, which department officials say is a significant step forward in technology that will shave several seconds off response times.
The Phoenix G2 Station Alerting System generates a computerized voice for dispatches based on data entered by the people fielding 911 calls at the Woodbury County Communications Center. The system sends the information over an internet connection and over the radio to fire stations, where the information appears on televisions and message boards and is voiced by the computer.
Purchased for $272,000 through the Woodbury County 911 Service Board, the system has replaced the department's previous VHF paging system, which was scheduled for replacement and no longer serviceable due to its age.
"The technology in that system has been around for literally over half a century," Aesoph said of the old system. "When we started looking at the replacement for that, to get to the cost of this project wasn't considerably more, so (we decided) let's take the next step and get into the 21st century."
Aesoph said the computerized format allows operators at the communications center to submit information more efficiently while remaining on the phone with callers, allowing them to continue asking questions or to instruct the caller on how to administer emergency medical care, such as CPR.
The ease of the new system makes for a shorter time between when a call is answered and when the information is provided to fire and rescue crews to respond. Aesoph said the department estimates it will shave about 15 seconds from calls initially, and up to 30 or 45 seconds on some calls as personnel become more accustomed to it.
Aesoph said that length of time could make the difference between someone being rescued from a fire, or a person surviving a heart attack.
"A fire will double in size approximately every 30 seconds inside your home," he said. "So by shaving 15 to 30 seconds off of our response time, it's huge."
Woodbury County Communications Center manager Wendi Hess said she ran a report Wednesday morning comparing the new system this week versus with the old system the month of June and found the average time from call receipt to dispatch had decreased 14 seconds.
"We've definitely already shaved some time off," she said, adding that numbers should improve as staff becomes more acclimated.
The department tested the new system for approximately two weeks before making the switch 8 a.m. Monday. Aesoph said in some cases, the department has had to teach the system to correctly pronounce challenging Sioux City street and place names.
"We can go in and modify that phonetically using phonemes (distinctive units of sound) to teach it how to say words such as 'Chautauqua,'" Aesoph said. "It really doesn't know how to say things like that."
Aesoph said the consistency of the computerized voice's pitch, tempo and pronunciations have received positive responses from crews. The calls being broadcast on television and LED message boards throughout the station also help those in loud areas of the station, such as the garage, see the information quickly and efficiently.