9 Investigates

New system designed to make Orlando fire response times faster, but some firefighters, paramedics say it’s slowing them down

ORLANDO, Fla. — When you call 911 to report an emergency, the average response time for Orlando first responders is four minutes. But since switching to a new computer-aided dispatch system, some firefighters and paramedics say it’s taken them double, sometimes triple that to make it to a call.

What’s different? The new system, which went into effect four months ago, gives dispatchers three different types of rescue crews to send you: a private ambulance, city firefighters or civilian paramedics.

The system is designed to help emergency crews respond faster, but dozens of firefighters and paramedics have complained. Some said the system isn’t sending units that are the closest to emergencies. In other cases, they said the wrong first responders, or not enough personnel, have been sent out on calls.

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Channel 9 investigative reporter Shannon Butler sat down with Fire Chief Benjamin Barksdale to discuss the complaints and what is being done.

“Is there a rise in response times since the new system?” Butler asked.

Barksdale’s response: “I don't know.”

He said it will take a year to see what is working and what is not.

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Barksdale, who started as fire chief in November 2019, said the public plays a key role in making the system better. He said you need to make sure when you call, you tell 911 dispatchers about all your symptoms so you get the help you need when you need it.

Records of complaints from firefighters and paramedics show examples of what can happen when wires get crossed using the new system.

When on a call with a 400-pound patient, a private ambulance 15 minutes away was sent while Rescue 12 was at the station and much closer to the patient, according to a complaint. The call was then changed, and one firefighter asked, "Is this a CAD error or dispatch error?”

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On a different call, a paramedic wrote that his unit was stuck in traffic while another unit could have gotten to the call faster. The complaint stated that the dispatcher insisted on sending those firefighters anyway.

The paramedics wrote that it took them 10 minutes to respond. The national standard for response times is four minutes.

That paramedic ended his complaints by saying, "This is not only unsafe for the citizens of Orlando but unsafe for our members.”

Barksdale said he has heard some of the complaints, including one from a district chief who said a fire near Kirkman Road last October wasn’t dispatched correctly.

He said the closest units were not sent, so he made the decision to change the lineup, and dispatch followed his lead. But, the complaint said, the mapping sent by the CAD system routed those crews incorrectly.

District chief Bryan Davis writing "routing discrepancy created significant delays."

Records show the crew got there in seven minutes.

Some reported issues with the system have been addressed, Barksdale said. He said the department looked at 911 responses to calls for people who’d fallen and found that 39% of the time not enough personnel were sent and more had to be dispatched.

Now, two units are sent just in case, just as they were before the new system was put in place.

Barksdale said comparable statistics for other types of calls have yet to be gathered.

Butler told Barksdale that some first responders seem to believe the change to the new system is causing safety issues for citizens.

“You say?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

The Orlando Professional Firefighters union released the following statement:

“The Orlando Professional Firefighters are aware of some of the deficiencies of the CAD system approved by the prior administration and its outside consultants. Since arriving at the department Chief Barksdale has made a concerted effort to improve the operational efficiency of the department. Local 1365 looks forward to continuing to working with Chief Barksdale to provide a higher level of service to the citizens of Orlando.”

Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.