Grant would improve fire dispatch services

Digitally enhanced system would enhance response process

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing reporter

Forest Park officials took action at Monday's village council meeting that they hope will enhance the operations of the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center (WESCOM) when the village joins next summer.

By a 5-0 vote, the council approved entering into a memorandum of understanding with Oak Park, River Forest, Elmwood Park and WESCOM to apply for a $419,000 federal grant to upgrade fire dispatch equipment for all the agencies.

Forest Park officials voted in September to join WESCOM, acceding to a state of Illinois requirement that smaller municipalities combine municipal dispatch operations.

Village Administrator Tim Gillian explained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2016-17 Regional Assistance to Firefighters grant would allow WESCOM to purchase state-of-the-art fire dispatch equipment. He said Forest Park has been working with the other agencies on the grant application since before the village officially joined in anticipation of eventually becoming a member.

According to the memo of understanding, Oak Park will be the lead agency, agreeing to administer the grant. Oak Park's responsibilities will include asset accountability and reporting requirements.

Brian Staunton, WESCOM executive director, said he is "really excited" about the opportunity to enhance fire dispatch service for the agencies. He explained that the digitally enhanced equipment the agencies intend to purchase would use enhanced computer technology to automate the response process.

"It really does improve the process," he noted, citing personal experience with the equipment when he was at another combined dispatch center.

Under terms of the application process, each agency will provide a cash match of 15 percent of the total cost of equipment to be purchased with grant funds. Of the total $493,572.02, all but $74,035.80 would be funded by the grant, the rest by the participating agencies.

Staunton said officials at the agencies determined the equipment they would need, leading to a different total for each. Forest Park's total is $58,648, of which the 15 percent share would be $8,797.20 and the grant allocation would be $49,850.80. For the other agencies, Oak Park would pay $33,075.50 and receive $187,427.81; Elmwood Park would pay $18,314.03 and receive $103,779.51; River Forest would pay $7,317.42 and receive $41,465.41; and WESCOM would pay $6,531.65 and receive $37,012.69.

Neither Gillian not Staunton are sure when FEMA will announce awards.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the consolidated dispatch law on June 29, 2015, after it was passed by the Illinois General Assembly earlier that year. The law requires municipalities throughout the state with populations of less than 25,000 to consolidate their dispatch operations by mid-2017 to reach that population number. With some communities — primarily downstate, without 911 centers — the law is seen as a first step toward universal 911 service statewide.

Village officials in September were not keen on the mandate, but voted in favor of joining WESCOM with Mayor Anthony Calderone explaining that ignoring it would have put at risk the 911 funding the village receives from the state, which he termed "a really significant problem." Although WESCOM also provides police dispatch service for Park Ridge, that municipality is not participating in this grant application since the grant would be for fire dispatch service equipment.

Gillian, who serves as Forest Park's representative on the WESCOM Board of Directors, said the financial impact is still to be determined. He anticipates it will take "several years" for the village to recoup its initial investment but hopes the annual expense of belonging to WESCOM will eventually be less than the cost of running a separate center.

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