Everton Bailey Jr.
The Dallas Morning News
An automated voice message system meant to alert Dallas fire stations of emergency calls is failing and delaying firefighters’ response times. Some teams have missed calls altogether.
The heads of Dallas’ fire and IT departments told City Council members Tuesday that the entire system, which the city has been paying to use since 2005, needs to be replaced. A 911 dispatcher is now dedicated to calling fire stations around the city to make sure fire staff don’t miss emergency calls.
The frequency of issues have increased in the last year and a half, said Bill Zielinski, Dallas’ chief information officer. He and Fire Chief Dominique Artis said the system is several software versions old and does not work properly with either Windows 7 or Windows 10, the city’s computer operating systems.
Neither said how many times there have been problems. A fire spokesman after the meeting said he didn’t immediately know, either. Zielinski and Artis didn’t say whether problems with the alert system led to more severe injuries or deaths.
Council member Cara Mendelsohn said she heard from firefighters about at least two instances this year in her Far North Dallas district when the closest station wasn’t alerted. One involved someone in need of emergency care and another involved an apartment complex fire.
She said other firefighters who responded to the burning building had to tell members of the closest station about it after noticing their fire truck was still in the garage when they drove by.
“They never heard it,” Mendelsohn said during the meeting. “It was the middle of the night, and the apartment complex sustained a lot more damage than it probably would have had [Station] 10 gone out.”
The fire station alert system is from Colorado-based Locution Systems Inc. It’s supposed to send automated announcements about emergency calls over stations’ public address system and turn on overhead lights to tip workers off that there’s an emergency in the area.
The Dallas City Council approved a new five-year contract with the Colorado-based company in September 2017 for nearly $259,000. The contract is supposed to cover software updates and technical support. Locution didn’t immediately respond to a call for comment Tuesday.
Zielinski said the fire department’s new budget, which went into effect this month, has federal stimulus money earmarked for buying a new system. He and Artis said new options will be identified in the next few months.