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North Lake Tahoe Fire to switch dispatch centers

Jenn Sheridan
Special to The Union

TRUCKEE — This week the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District has left the Washoe County Dispatch center and is working with the Grass Valley Emergency Command Center for all fire and medical calls.

The change is unlikely to be noticed by the public, officials say. However, the move is meant to help enhance daily operations between fire agencies in the Tahoe Basin. Washoe County Dispatch will remain the Public Safety Answering Point for Incline Village and will continue to dispatch all police calls, but fire and medical calls will be transferred to the Grass Valley Emergency Command Center.

When someone dials 911, the call will be answered by the Washoe County Dispatch Center. The caller will be asked if they are calling for police, fire, or medical help and their call will be directed accordingly.

“It’s a better fit for day-to-day operations,” said Ryan Sommers, fire chief for North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District. “Grass Valley already handles 60% of dispatch for the Tahoe Basin. We work with North Tahoe Fire every single day. We do a lot of automatic and mutual aid together. With us moving to Grass Valley it takes one dispatch center out of the picture, which means less repetition of notifying each dispatch center of moving apparatus and such.”

Additionally the move will bring substantial savings to the district budget, according to Sommers.

The Grass Valley Emergency Command Center is operated by Cal Fire, and it dispatches everything from the California-Nevada state line on the North Shore to Lake Valley, including Truckee, Northstar, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. In the event of a wildland fire, having regional agencies operating out of the same dispatch center will help ensure that communication and operations are more cohesive between crews, Sommers said.

The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District began to look into the switch in October, according to the district’s board minutes, which show Sommers noted the district’s dispatch fees were set to increase by $1,052,000. That amount is equal to fees paid by Truckee Meadows Fire District, which is also served by Washoe County Dispatch. However, Truckee Meadows Fire responds to 14,000 calls per year compared to the 2,000-2,200 calls run by North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District each year.

EFFICIENCIES

According to board minutes, the Grass Valley Emergency Command Center has stated the district “would pay close to if no more to what we currently pay Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, which is $300,000 a year.”

Sommers also cited concerns with inefficient communication with Washoe County Dispatch. In addition to Truckee Meadows Fire District, the Washoe County Dispatch Center also serves the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, Pyramid Fire, Gerlach, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, and Pyramid Lake Police Department.

In researching the decision, Sommers looked at other dispatch agencies that transferred calls over state lines, including Alpine and Douglas counties, and Clark and San Bernardino counties, and found that there were no risks involved with such calls taking place daily in both regions. Though there are some operational changes involved in switching dispatch centers, Sommers said these are turnkey during a Jan. 22 board meeting.

Down the line, Sommers is looking at the potential for a Basin dispatch center, however that plan is still years out.

“We have a bi-state communications meeting in the month, but this is a four- to five-year project,” he said. “The Department of Homeland Security is currently doing an audit to see how we can best benefit from a Basin wide center to include local, state, and federal agencies in one area.”

Jenn Sheridan is a freelance writer who lives in Truckee.


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