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SF boosts funding for 911 dispatchers

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San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Mayor Mark Farrell announce new funding efforts for emergency services in San Francisco, Calif., on May 30, 2018.

How fast a 911 dispatcher picks up a call can be a life and death situation for someone who needs medical attention. Which is why San Francisco officials are making investments into training more dispatchers.

Mayor Mark Farrell said on Wednesday at The City’s Department of Emergency Management that his proposed budget will include $8 million for the department to train 90 dispatcher recruits to make sure the dispatch center is meeting national guidelines of answering 90 percent of 911 calls within 10 seconds:

“Anyone calling 911 in our city needs to make there is a live person on the other end of line when they make that phone call. It is sometimes matter between life and death.”

Since 2011, The City’s dispatch center has seen a 44 percent increase in calls with dispatchers answering approximately 1,000 calls per day, according to The Mayor’s Office.

The Board of Supervisors heavily criticized the lagging response times last during a committee hearing when just two-thirds of calls were responded to in 10 seconds.

Mayor Ed Lee last year convened a task force to improve operations inside the dispatch center. Recommendations included hiring and training dispatchers, having SF311 handle nonemergency calls, and bringing back retired dispatchers to work, said Farrell.

Since then, calls are now being answered 88 percent of time within 10 seconds, said Anne Kroenberg, director of the Department of Emergency Management.

It takes approximately nine months to a year to train dispatchers. Last year, the department added nearly 40 new dispatchers, said Kroenberg:

“We’re seeing the results right now with our 90 percent call answering time.”

Funding will also be set aside for the department to pilot a Watch Center that will help The City better coordinate and respond to an emergency or disaster.

The Fire Department will also benefit from a $13 million funding boost in Farrell’s proposed budget to purchase new firefighting equipment, ambulances and firefighting apparatuses.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said the new vehicles are more “agile” to handle the narrow and windy streets of The City.

Additionally, $1.5 million will go towards to a second medical response vehicle team for the Fire Department that will handle calls that do not need the resources of an ambulance or a fire engine. The team will focus on areas such as the Tenderloin and Civic Center neighborhoods.

Farrell in recent weeks has been revealing top budget top priorities for the next two years, including an increase in funding for street cleaning, a 10-person needle pick-up team, and a team to hand out medication to those suffering in the streets from effects of opioids.

Farrell will unveil his two-year budget proposal on Thursday.

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