INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are looking at ways to help 911 dispatchers communicate across county lines.
When you call 911, sometimes the closest first responders are not the ones who get that call. This can happen when 911 systems can’t communicate across county lines.
Counties each have their own 911 dispatch center, and they don’t all use the same computer platform to view available resources. This means dispatchers can’t always see which crews are available in a neighboring county.
George and Beth West of Indianapolis worry it’s causing deadly consequences.
“Everybody that knew him loved him,” Beth said of her late son Matt.
In 2019, 30-year-old Matt West was getting ready for a friend’s birthday party in Fishers. His parents received a call from his friends saying Matt had collapsed.
As the Wests rushed to be with Matt, they passed an Indianapolis firehouse on the way.
“I just remember passing it and thanking God that it was so close,” George West said.
But George later learned that crew just over a mile away in Marion County never got the call.
Instead, dispatchers sent the closest available team in Fishers, which is located in Hamilton County, more than three miles away.
It was later discovered Matt had an undetected blood condition that caused a clot, leading to cardiac arrest, Beth explained. He couldn’t be revived.
“He would have gotten defibrillated sooner,” George said. “Whether it would have saved my son’s life, I don’t know. We’ll never know the answer to that.”
Chief Steve Orusa of the Fishers Fire Department says this response issue isn’t new.
“This is a problem that isn’t just in Indiana, it’s nationwide,” Orusa said.
According to Chief Orusa, Hamilton County and Marion County use different computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. That means dispatchers can’t see what resources are available in the other county.
“I think that it’s such a big problem that it’s going to require teamwork,” Orusa said. “It’s going to require the state legislatures, it’s going to require counties and even municipalities to work together.”
Earlier this year, the state legislature asked the statewide 911 board to come up with solutions.
The board’s report has two recommendations: require all dispatch centers to use the same software vendor or adopt technology that allows all counties to easily communicate with each other.
Jeff Schemmer, the board’s executive director, said he believes the latter idea is the most feasible.
“It’s going to require additional funding,” Schemmer said. “As far as where the actual funding comes from, that’s left to be said and that’s left up to the legislators to decide that. We do know it’s going to be expensive.”
“There’s at least one feasible solution, perhaps more,” said State Sen. Kyle Walker (R-Fishers), who is leading efforts to introduce a bill this session.
Walker said he believes his colleagues are willing to invest state dollars.
“I think that we all have the same goal of wanting to make sure that the closest and most appropriate resources are dispatched to us or to our loved ones,” Walker said.
George and Beth West say they want to see a solution that saves lives.
“I’m not going to quit on this at all,” George West said. “I’m going to follow it to the end, ’til they do the right thing.”
Lawmakers are still working out estimates for how much a potential fix would cost and how much money the state may be able to provide, State Sen. Walker said. They’re also looking at what some other states have done to try to fix this issue, he added.
The new legislative session starts January 9.