Problems with dispatching aired at recent meeting

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 6/22/22

MARIES COUNTY — At last Thursday’s Maries County Commission meeting, Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) Administrator Carla Butler, who was on the agenda, came to the meeting to talk …

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Problems with dispatching aired at recent meeting

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MARIES COUNTY — At last Thursday’s Maries County Commission meeting, Maries-Osage Ambulance District (MOAD) Administrator Carla Butler, who was on the agenda, came to the meeting to talk about the problems with the county’s 911 dispatching. She cited communication problems with the sheriff’s office and brought a copy of the Sunshine request she had made in Sept. 2021 asking for information she needed, which was never responded to. 

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel said either Sheriff Chris Heitman or Sheriff’s Deputy Scott John needed to be there, saying the commissioners don’t have authority over dispatching. Butler said there are major issues that need to be addressed. She was complimentary of the county’s dispatchers, saying, “They are amazing” but they have too much to do by serving as both dispatchers and jailers. “They need to be at the dispatch console when that call comes in.”  

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said the county commission put more money toward dispatch in order to have two people working as dispatchers/jailers at the same time. Butler said she can come back. The problem needs to be worked out and she said she wants to put together a committee of first responders and others to address it “before it becomes a volcano and explodes.” She suggested more training would be helpful. Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman agreed and said all the money put toward new equipment won’t do any good without good people to work there. 

The sheriff was contacted and he was in Belle, but made it to the meeting in about 30 minutes. He sat beside Butler at the table. Butler turned to him and said she was there because of concern for “lots of issues with dispatch.” Heitman responded that he’d never had issues with MOAD when Brian Opoka was the administrator, saying he would call and text him and even the paramedics and EMTs contacted him. Butler said she does not want to sit and argue. “We are all here to serve the community.” Heitman said he did not receive a Sunshine request from her, which Butler then said she had reached out to Scott John on Facebook because she didn’t have phone numbers for them and messages left at the sheriff’s office were never responded to. 

Butler said dispatching is not getting better and noted a life-threatening call that for seven minutes the ambulance was not dispatched out. She said they get “flagged” by the medical director for losing response time. 

Heitman explained the process with dispatch. They get a 911 call for help, such as a wreck, and he immediately pages out the responders, and not until that is finished does it get typed and logged and sent out via CAD. He said he’d rather get the ambulance and firemen out and going; his second priority is the paperwork. Butler said MOAD gets dinged on stuff like this.

She also questioned why MOAD gets dispatched to calls in the Belle ambulance district. Heitman questioned why they were worried about “who does it. Just answer the call. It’s a waste of time.” 

Butler said they have a mapped territory and this is why she is here as it is an issue with dispatch and it needs fixed as it is putting lives on the line. The sheriff said MOAD has basic life support (BLS) staff most of the time. “Your staffing shortages are the same as mine.” The sheriff’s office tries to have two dispatchers at the same time, but they have staffing problems. Butler said the dispatchers are responsible for too much. Heitman said they come to work, get trained, then go somewhere else. 

Recently, Butler said the dispatcher could not call a helicopter because they didn’t know how. Heitman said he had a better relationship with Opoka. Butler said Heitman had never reached out to her. She calls dispatch every day to inform them what MOAD’s crew is, and she’s tried to work with them as a team. 

County Dispatch Supervisor Liz Schrimpf explained what had happened with the helicopter dispatch, as she was there and took over for the dispatcher. Heitman told Butler she got her information wrong and Butler said there still are issues, and some of his staff came to a MOAD meeting and they discussed it “and now I am here.” Heitman said they have a lack of communication and he and Butler exchanged phone numbers.

Next they discussed the contentious issue the two entities have with blood draws. Butler said it is a legality issue and Heitman disputed that. Butler said it’s a liability for the district and the board members. There was a legal ruling on it. She said she was not at the meeting to bicker with the sheriff. She had praised the dispatchers who she said have too much on their plates when their primary focus should be answering 911 calls and dispatching first responders. 

Heitman asked if the county should raise taxes to hire more people, saying it would cost over $100,000 to hire four full time jailers as the sheriff’s office is open 24 hours a day. He said they need to send someone to get trained as a phlebotomist. 

He asked Butler if MOAD wants to move all it’s dispatching to Osage County, saying the sheriff’s office doesn’t charge MOAD for dispatching, but could, and maybe it’s time for that. He suggested MOAD go with Osage County as it has more resources. Butler said that decision is up to the MOAD board. 

Heitman said he thinks if they went to court about this, he would win.

Butler mentioned wanting a first responder committee. Heitman said he thinks a lot could be solved by her contacting him. There are some things they can’t fix. 

Schrimpf said the dispatch process is dispatch gets the information, they dispatch it out and the ambulance responds. Butler said there are problems that need to be worked on. There are problems with not knowing the areas, or if its mutual aid and they argue with the ambulance crews. Heitman said they get the call out as fast as they can and Butler said, “And we respond.” The sheriff said they have the most problems with this near the boundary lines of the ambulance districts. Schrimpf said they will go in and retweak the addresses. She said a new system is coming this summer. Schrimpf said they dispatch out as quickly as they can rather than taking 10 minutes to look up which district the incident is in. Butler said they can get into trouble responding to an incident that is not in their jurisdiction. Heitman said the liability is getting dispatched and not going and something happens. Stratman said it creates a problem when the ambulance responds outside its district and then another call in it’s district comes in. Butler said they do respond and it is considered mutual aid. She said they don’t want a problem with it because they all have to work together. The sheriff said he thinks they can work it out. His staff is overworked and it is not something he can change. Butler thinks the committee will help. The sheriff said he wants a direct line of communication with her. 

Heitman said the new system will be better but they always have that delay in logging because they want to get the ball rolling and get people putting on their books before they get more information such as an address. 

Stratman said he thinks it’s time to move on and to make something positive out of their discussion. 

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