When people call in an fire emergency in the Signal Hill Fire Protection District beginning in May, their calls will go to the St. Clair County run CENCOM, but firefighters will be dispatched by the Belleville Police Department.
The Signal Hill Fire Department plans to move its dispatching services from the St. Clair County run CENCOM to Belleville.
However, because 911 calls are routed based off who provides law enforcement for the area, people with emergencies in the Signal Hill Fire District will still have their calls answered by CENCOM.
The unincorporated area, which has about 2,300 addresses, has law enforcement provided by the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office, which has its calls dispatched by CENCOM.
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Signal Hill has sent the St. Clair County Emergency Telephone Systems Board Executive Director Herb Simmons a 90-day notice that it intends to change dispatch services to Belleville on May 1.
“We feel it’s going to improve communications for us,” said Signal Hill Fire Chief Tom Elliff, who became fire chief on Jan. 1. “We continually look to make improvements around the fire house. We’re always evaluating what we’re doing. We feel it’s going to be a better notification system for our firefighters, because of some issues technology wise with the system that the county uses.”
When a 911 calls comes in, the CENCOM telecommunicators will answer and take down the information to determine whether its a fire call or law enforcement call.
With the telelcommunicators with the way they’re trained, they know how to do their job, I think they’re going to be able to do this with no problem. That same transfer step occurs in other areas of this county, as well as other areas throughout the state and throughout the nation.
Signal Hill Fire Chief Tom Eilliff
If it’s a call Signal Hill Fire Department would handle, the CENCOM telecommunicators will relay the information to the Belleville Public Safety Answering Point who will then dispatch Signal Hill firefighters.
“Our telecommunicator will take the information, they have to get the address, make sure where it’s at, get the call back number, and then have to transfer that call to Belleville,” Simmons said. “There could be that possible delay.”
Signal Hill Fire officials said issues with topography and geography have affected firefighters ability to receive pages for calls.
Elliff said Signal Hill has worked on the issue for a number of years and even considered moving its dispatching services to Swansea or O’Fallon.
“With the telelcommunicators with the way they’re trained, they know how to do their job, I think they’re going to be able to do this with no problem,” Elliff said. “That same transfer step occurs in other areas of this county, as well as other areas throughout the state and throughout the nation.”
Belleville’s system works off of just one antenna at a higher elevation, Elliff said.
“We’ve done testing with Belleville, throughout areas of our fire district and beyond, and we had no problems with pager activation,” Elliff said. “We’re ensuring we’re getting our firefighters notified to come take care of your problem.”
Simmons would not speculate on how long of a delay there would be to respond to calls, but said it would depend on the state of mind of the caller.
“I think it will take longer, because now we’ve put another transfer in place,” Simmons said.
I think we’re going to make it a smooth transition for the Signal Hill Fire District. I just think I would not be doing my due diligence to let the citizens know, 911 follows the law enforcement part.
St. Clair County Emergency Telephone System Board Executive Director Herb Simmons
Elliff said everyone in the district will be notified of the change, and that anyone with an alarm will have to tell their alarm companies they have a different dispatch center to notify when there’s an alarm activation.
In 2016, the five-square-mile Signal Hill Fire District had 152 calls. Of those calls, 39 percent were for activated fire alarms. There were two structure fires.
Simmons said he does not plan to charge Signal Hill for answering initial calls.
Simmons added he had heard previous complaints from Signal Hill about pagers not going off for a call but said there have been no problems since he has run the ETSB.
“Through all the time I’ve been here they’ve never missed a fire call, they’ve never missed any type of calls,” Simmons said.
Simmons said there may be problems on a call-by-call basis, but said he would work to make the transition uneventful.
“I think we’re going to make it a smooth transition for the Signal Hill Fire District,” Simmons said. “I just think I would not be doing my due diligence to let the citizens know, 911 follows the law enforcement part.”