Friday, November 2, 2012
SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s firefighters union is calling for an outside investigation of the San Antonio Fire Department’s $19 million computer automated dispatch system.
It’s the way crews are sent to emergencies and also how they talk to each other while responding in the field.
The fire department says part of the system is housed inside a room at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, and that room overheated Tuesday night, causing the radio communications to crash and stop talking to the tower.
Assistant Chief Vance Meade says calls came into 911 like normal and those calls were dispatched like normal.
He says what wasn’t normal was that radio system.
"There was a point in time when we actually could do no transmissions at all,” Assistant Chief Meade says. “There were other times when they were intermittent here and there."
He says the problems started sometime after 9 p.m. Tuesday night and lasted several hours.
"We had to switch our radios to a different mode,” Assistant Chief Meade says.
He says that’s one of the backups. But the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association says the backup just didn’t work.
"And this was just something that overheated?” association president Chris Steele says. “Can you imagine if it was real, if it was serious, if there was a storm like what's unfortunately going on in the northeast? We should be ready for all those things."
He says fire crews couldn’t talk to each other so they didn’t know if other crews had arrived to emergencies, how big those emergencies were, and in one case, where it even was.
"I had paramedics going to an EMS call at Randolph and I-35. Well, if anybody knows, Randolph and I-35 can be two areas,” Steele says.
The fire department says to make sure the equipment doesn’t overheat again, the room temperature for the sheriff’s office will now be monitored 24/7.
But the union’s complained about this system for years and wants the city council and the mayor to make some major changes.
The San Antonio Police Department operates on a different tower system, so a police spokesman says the only change made was sending two officers to every call instead of one.