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Columbia Missourian

Boone County Fire Protection District Board: Proposition 1 would make 911 service quicker, safer

By Riley Simpson
March 18, 2013 | 6:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — John Sam Williamson found a man passed out in a bobtail tractor parked by the big bur oak on his property one night in 2009.

Williamson's cell phone didn't have service, so he drove a half mile back to his house to call 911. He told the operator to send help to the truck on Burr Oak Road, but the emergency vehicles arrived at his house. He had to direct them to Burr Oak Road to help the man in the tractor.

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"It was a delay," Williamson said. "Whatever kind of emergency it is, time is critical."

Williamson and the rest of the Boone County Fire Protection District board of directors voted in February to support Proposition 1, which would allow a three-eighths-cent sales tax to improve Boone County's 911 and emergency management systems. 

The proposition is on the ballot in the April 2 election.

The sales tax revenue would go toward a new dispatch center for the 911 operation to replace the Joint Communications Center. It would also upgrade equipment and add staff. Interim operations manager Joe Piper said the center's desks, consoles and radios are due for upgrades.

Williamson said he supports the proposition because it would make 911 dispatch faster and more efficient. 

"It doesn't matter how good our firemen or police officers are if we can't get there quick enough," Williamson said.

Consultants hired by Boone County to study its 911 system and present recommendations at the Feb. 20 board meeting said the radio equipment and emergency management systems were outdated. Some were installed in the 1980s.

Orbacom, the company that made the base station radios, is no longer in business. To find central processing cards, technicians have borrowed the parts from other communities or searched for them on eBay, Piper said.

Board member Phyllis Fugit said the proposition would help keep emergency personnel safe.

"It puts firefighters, emergency responders and the community at risk to not upgrade this system," Fugit said.

Dave Griggs, board chairman, said he endorsed the proposition because the board has two responsibilities: the safety of its personnel and fast, efficient and safe service.

Griggs said a new dispatch center, more staff and upgraded equipment are needed to help the Joint Communications Center take pressure off its operators. 

"To be honest, I think we have the finest volunteer fire department in the U.S. and, as far as the city is concerned, one of the best municipal fire departments," Griggs said. "But like any emergency service provider, we could always use more money or better equipment." 

Supervising editor is Richard Webner.