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Dispatchers handled high call volume due to Overland Park fire

Posted: 7:34 PM, Mar 21, 2017
Updated: 2017-03-22 00:34:01Z

The first words of the CityPlace fire came out of Johnson County’s communication center around 3:25 Monday afternoon. 

Dispatchers played a vital role in passing along information to the firefighters who had the Herculean task of putting out the massive fire at Nieman and College. 

“Once we start getting additional calls for additional house fires to the neighborhood to the south tension got a little higher,” Josh Lynch, Operations Manager at Johnson County Emergency Management and Communications said.  “But our staff is well-trained and they handle it professionally they knew their job and they stayed in their roles.”

Overland Park apartment fire

As did the firefighters who realized they would need help to battle the growing inferno.

“It was on our radar screen very quickly that we needed to have other folks on standby and soon as we got them on standby we had work for them to do,” Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said in a news conference Tuesday. 

Those firefighters came from across Johnson County, KCK, KCMO and Lawrence. In Monday’s fire communication was key. 

Johnson County is part of the Metropolitan Area Regional Radio System.

“We were working six simultaneous tactical channels which is really unheard of,” Ellen Wernicke, Director of Johnson County Emergency Management & Communications said.

Tactical channels allow first responders to talk to one another at the scene, the channel itself encrypted.

“There is no switching of radios when units from outside the county come on scene it's as easy as moving to a different channel in their radio,” Wernicke said.

During the height of the fire, the 13 dispatchers used six tactical channels.

“And really we utilized the six because we had reached capacity for staffing and being able to monitor the tact channels,” Wernicke said.

Radio use among fire crews increased 150 percent, a first for them. 

“We had so many radios actively working simultaneously on the system that we did experience a few busies on our system not a significant impact that it impacted the safety of our responders,” Wernicke said. “I feel like we have adequate capacity but last night was very unique and not a situation that we routinely see.”

Wernicke adds the volume of 911 calls tripled from the first call of the fire through midnight. 

“We practice for situations like this,” she said. “We never expected to happen to the scale that it did last night.

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Andres Gutierrez can be reached at  andres.gutierrez@kshb.com

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