Local fire, EMS calls routed through new dispatch center

The goal was for a seamless transition early this week when a new agency began handling emergency calls to the Enumclaw Fire Department.

Dispatch services have traditionally been handled by the city, but – as of Monday morning – calls are now being routed to the Valley Communication Center.

Valley Com, as it widely known, has grown from a fairly small operation in the late 1970 to an organization that now handles dispatch duties for more than 20 entities.

The decision to switch was made during a Feb. 15 meeting of the Enumclaw Fire Department’s board of commissioners, following months of discussion.

Fire Chief Randy Fehr supported the decision, citing greater efficiency through enhanced technology.

“As a fire department we want to provide the best emergency response to our customers,” Fehr said in a press released issued by the department. “One way that we can do that is to ensure that we are using the most technologically advanced fire dispatching center available to us.”

Valley Com’s technology and broad customer base will save time when mutual aid is required from other departments, Fehr said, and provide more-detailed information for responders.

For example, it is noted that the EFD serves an area of 56 square miles and has nearly 1,000 fire hydrants at its disposal.

“It can be difficult to memorize the quickest way from A to B and know which hydrant is closest to the fire,” the EFD release said. Now, with the switch to Valley Com, responders will receive electronic notifications using GPS-based routing.

When an incident arises that is more than the EFD can handle, Valley Com will simultaneously notify nearby departments that have “mutual aid” agreements with Enumclaw. Valley Com handles calls for every department in south King County and will still contact South Sound 911 when help is sought from Buckley Fire.

But what does the change mean for those in need of help?

“For you as a 911 caller there will be no noticeable change,” the department’s release states.

More than 80 percent of 911 calls are from cellular phones and those will be answered by the King County Sheriff’s dispatch center, then routed to Valley Com. The same goes for land-line calls within the department’s boundaries but outside the Enumclaw city limits.

Land-line calls originating within the city will still go to the Enumclaw dispatch center, then transferred to Valley Com.

While public safety is the primary objective, Fehr noted the fire department will save a bit of money with the change. Dispatching is paid on a “per call” basis, he explained, adding that Valley Com will be paid $40.79 per call, about a dollar less than the city gets.

The department projects about 2,500 calls during 2017, Fehr said.

The decision by Enumclaw Fire leaves the Enumclaw dispatch center handling only the city police department, plus some calls from Mount Rainier National Park.

City Administrator Chris Searcy said the city anticipated the loss of revenue when its 2017 budget was created. Everuything wil continue as before, he said, simply with a decreased call volume.

Valley Com has been around since 1977, when the mayors of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila decided to join forces.

They decided they needed a consolidated center to handle calls for police, fires and medical emergencies. Since that time, the operation has grown rapidly.

Valley Com now serves 21 agencies – including Enumclaw – stretching from Burien to Black Diamond, from Vashon Island to Federal Way. It handles police, fire and EMS calls for Renton, Tukwila and Kent; fire and EMS for 10 agencies; police only for six departments; and EMS only for King County Medic One.

During its history, Valley Com staffing has grown from 16 authorized positions to 130 (as of 2015). It first operated in a vacated volunteer fire station with a little more than 1,000 square feet of space. When it moved in 2002, the new facility boasted 24,000 square feet.

More about Valley Com can be found at www.valleycom.org. Additional information about the transition to Valley Com is available at www.enumclawfire.com, by visiting the department’s Facebook page or by calling 360-825-5544.