Dan Hust | Democrat
THIS IS THE nerve center of the Sullivan County 911 Center at the airport in White Lake, where four computers and dispatchers handle incoming 911 calls and coordinate activities with emergency responders. On Saturday, it was still active just filled with visitors celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Emergency Center Celebrates 20 Years
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE December 14, 2007 The idea of a centralized emergency control system seems common sense these days, but twenty years ago, it was a brand new concept in Sullivan County.
Woodridge resident and longtime Sullivan County Fire Coordinator Harold Kronenberg recalled the strenuous battles required in the early 1980s to win over a skeptical, insular group of firefighters, ambulance corps members and county officials.
“Eventually it was decided I would run it and they’d have an advisory board,” he said during Saturday’s gathering celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Sullivan County Emergency Control Center.
And so in 1987 he became the center’s department head, a role he would fill for the next 13 years.
Jack Halchak of Hurleyville and Paul Walsh of Rock Hill were also organizers of the effort to centralize emergency response, and they were proud to reunite with the first and current set of center employees on Saturday, enjoying food and fellowship inside the Sullivan County International Airport terminal in White Lake.
“We weren’t getting the service we needed,” recalled Halchak, who was Hurleyville Fire Department’s chief 20 years ago. “Our dispatching wasn’t growing with the fire service.”
Two decades later, the center is coordinating responders’ efforts in ways that couldn’t be imagined in 1987.
Indeed, it isn’t even called the Emergency Control Center anymore. In 2000, the Sullivan County 911 Center was born, a result of three years of work to bring the center into compliance with national standards.
Now, on the cusp of 2008, the 911 Center occupies its own concrete building at the airport and features four response desks with the latest in computers, software and related equipment, operating via five radio towers scattered throughout the county.
These days, callers’ names, locations and phone numbers instantly appear on dispatchers’ screens even for cell phone users, in most cases.
TDD machines stand by for those with hearing impairments, maps and photos provide pinpoint accuracy, and the center has direct access to firehouse sirens, negating the need for a firefighter to head to the station to activate it personally.
Soon, a program called Pictometry will once again redefine the process, offering three-dimensional views of the building from which a call originates, so that dispatchers can provide responders with a complete visual description of the premises.
Of course, the system is only as good as the people behind it, and that’s what Saturday’s celebration was really all about.
“I’m very proud of the entire staff,” remarked 911 Coordinator Alex Rau, a 12-year veteran of the center, often found alongside his 15 full-time and one part-time employees. “. . . We always pitch in and know we have to come and serve the county.”
“All of this works because of one thing: the people who make it work,” added Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic, whose division includes the 911 Center. “. . . Today we salute all of you who have worked and are working there.”
“You’re there 24/7, and we certainly appreciate it,” Legislator Ron Hiatt told those gathered.
Their success has been an entire county’s success, if only evidenced by the fact that while 6,073 calls were handled by the Emergency Control Center in its first year of operation, more than 103,000 have come in so far this year.
Indeed, during one of the recent devastating floods, just two dispatchers handled more than 400 calls in one hour.
How’d they do it? The answer is remarkably simple.
“It’s a good feeling helping people on the phone,” explained Rau.