Parisi wants closest resources responding to 911 emergencies

Proposal made after News 3 investigation
Picture of Joe Parisi

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is asking the 911 Center Board to authorize a policy sending the closest possible resources to a fire or emergency medical situation no matter if that’s in a different city.

This comes after News 3 revealed the delays in dispatching firefighters to a fire last October that killed 51-year-old Chris Williams. The Riverwood Apartments on Bridge Road straddles the boundary of Monona and Madison. Two different 911 operators manually overrode the recommendation of their computer which wanted to dispatch Monona firefighters to the scene.

It ended up taking 3:48 to dispatch Madison firefighters to the scene and an additional 10 minutes for the first crew to arrive on scene. All the while, Monona firefighters, located roughly a mile from the fire, were at their fire station unassigned.

“Under current practice, municipal boundaries, established independently by fire and emergency medical districts, determine which emergency departments and resources are dispatched,” Parisi wrote to board members. “Put more simply, why aren’t the closest emergency units sent to calls regardless of where jurisdictional lines are drawn?”

The city of Milwaukee and 17 suburban fire departments agreed last month to send the closest available firefighting unit to fires.

Jim Williams, Chris Williams’ younger brother, is frustrated at the dispatch delay, but also at the fact that both Monona and Blooming Grove firefighters were closer to his brother’s apartment but remained in their station unassigned. He openly wonders whether his brother, found dead just inside his unlocked front door, could have been saved.

“I can’t imagine how he felt trying to get out of there. It’s the worst memory in my mom and my minds,” he said. “I feel bad for the (Madison) firemen coming to such a nightmare of a situation. They shouldn’t have had to deal with that.”

Madison Fire Chief Steve Davis said the new policy is not new at all and is, instead, a deflection from the real problems in slow dispatch time at the 911 Center.

“We’ve done this in the county for a long, long time where we do border drops,” Davis said. “Madison’s all for that. Always has been.”

Further, he said there should be no confusion about which agency should have responded to fight the fire that killed Chris Williams.

“We should have sent Monona,” he said. “It’s a non-issue. The closest rig should have gone.”

Parisi’s chief of staff Josh Wescott told the 911 Center Board on Wednesday that the only constraint to the new policy taking place immediately is because of past practices. He encouraged the board to direct 911 operators to implement the change during its next meeting on June 25.

“The public expects when they call, the closest help available will come,” Parisi wrote in his memo the 911 Center Board members. “This is an opportunity for regional collaboration that’s truly in the best interest of public safety.”