New software system helps AFD streamline dispatch call process

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Inside Anchorage Fire Station No. 12, a brand new software system developed in-house is streamlining the dispatch call process, and getting people help faster than ever before.

The AFD Communications Center, which serves as a hub for any and all fire and EMS-related calls, takes about 36,000 calls each year. In each of those calls, time is precious, and seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

"In the past, we used a system that required us to use a very rigid script of questions," said AFD Chief Jodie Hettrick. "The caller would call in, give the address, say what the problem was, and then the dispatcher would have to read off the script, which was in a computer program. They'd answer a question, and then based on the info the caller would provide, they'd click a button and it would take it to the next question."

Hettrick also said there was a tendency to send out more crews than necessary, because the old program didn't differentiate between small fires — or even smoke from a little campfire or steam source — and large ones. That's in addition to other costs, including crew costs in time, energy and money; and costs for equipment, gasoline, and other gear.

That all began to change when Stephanie Dufek started working at AFD three years ago.

"A lot of the calls we were taking were taking several minutes, that should've taken 30, 45 seconds," Dufek said. "Certainly, we deal with barriers with our callers — often times, they panic. This is the worst day of their lives, potentially."

"We're still getting help there," she said. "We're getting the right help, now."

She recognized the flaw in the program and asked about creating a new system that would help streamline the call process.

Today, Dufek and a small team from the dispatch center have done exactly that, with the program proving to be a big change in terms of efficiency, resource deployment and service.

"It's been a two-year labor of love," she said. "A lot of time and energy, a lot of people who have been involved, a lot of people who have helped propel this forward. So exciting."

The team has spent the last few years perfecting the system and launched it this month, so that when you call, the crew is still ready for you, but getting help out faster than ever.

"It's been really great to see this whole effort come together in a product that works," Hettrick said, "just like we thought it would."

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