Loudoun Co. agencies to work together to improve 911 call response

The growing number of hang-up calls to 911 is putting people at risk, according to Loudoun County's sheriff. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
WASHINGTON — The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Combined Fire and Rescue System are promising to work together to address delays in response to some 911 calls in the Virginia county.

After a heated meeting in June over a county study that recommended more consolidation of 911 services to avoid multiple transfers to other operators, the agencies have now written to the board of supervisors that they will work together to improve the situation.

Sheriff Mike Chapman had objected to a proposal from that study that would have put all 911 operations under a single county-run agency.

Both the sheriff’s office and fire rescue now say they have agreed in principle to train their separate operators in the emergency communications center to handle both fire and law enforcement calls, rather than only one or the other. Longer term technology changes are also possible.

There is no timeline for the changes described in quarterly reports submitted to the board of supervisors ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, since leaders of each agency are now figuring out how the training and other changes might work.

“Stakeholders from LCFR and LCSO must first develop policies and procedures, define specific requirements and resources required to implement Universal Call-Takers,” the Fire and Rescue System said. “Leadership from LCFR and LCSO authorized their respective ECC staff to build out a plan to accomplish the concepts identified above and provide us the recommendations needed to accomplish our mission. Once reviewed by our staff, we will be presenting this information to County leadership and the board of supervisors.”

Today, all 911 calls in Loudoun County are first answered by a county fire operator, who then transfers calls from within the county that are not for fire or rescue services to a sheriff’s office call taker, state police or Leesburg police.

Calls transferred to Leesburg police are sometimes transferred back to the fire rescue call taker or sheriff’s call taker, if a caller is not certain whether they are within the official borders of Leesburg, or if additional information suggests an ambulance is needed. Leesburg police also use a different system, so must ask again for basic location information, since that is not sent over when the call is transferred.

Among the changes being considered are the use of additional features in the computer-aided-dispatch systems within the 911 call center and more coordination within the Emergency Communications Center (ECC).

“Leadership from Loudoun County Fire and Rescue and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office met recently to discuss how to more effectively and efficiently meet the mission of providing high quality Fire, EMS and Law Enforcement Services to the citizens of Loudoun County,” the Fire and Rescue System report said.

“While a full consolidation of the ECC was proposed, we are focusing our immediate efforts into evolving our staff into “Universal Call-Takers” which is one way we can improve 9-1-1 services in Loudoun County,” the report continued.

The change could significantly cut down on the wait between the start of a call and first responders arriving on scene, the fire rescue system said.

Each agency would maintain its own dispatchers as they currently exist, and the call takers would remain separate for nonemergency calls.

The county study of 911 Emergency Communications Center operations suggested more call takers and dispatchers will be needed in coming years as Loudoun continues to grow.

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