Sea Isle City had problems with its emergency services last year. Its fire chief was forced to resign after a state inquiry found he and two assistants didn’t have the necessary training. And after some destructive fires, the public found out that for many years the city’s dispatchers often weren’t sending firefighters until police had first confirmed there was a fire.
In one such case, a Press review of records showed that although police arrived moments after a car fire was reported, it took another six minutes before the dispatch signal was sent to fire crews. The fire spread to a woman’s summer home and she later notified the city’s insurer that she intended to sue over what she called “the fire department’s very slow response which was below the standard.”
Sea Isle City quietly abandoned its practice of sometimes waiting for police confirmation before calling out firefighters to answer a call. A review of public records found a special order effective Nov. 21 by the Police Department, which oversees the city’s volunteer fire department, stating, “All Fire calls will be dispatched to Police, Fire and EMS simultaneously.”
City Police Chief Thomas McQuillen, who is also public safety director, said the city always looks to find the best way to do things. “In our continual evaluations of how we operate, we tweak them and tweak them and tweak them until we think they are as good as they’re going to get.”
Continual improvement is a good approach to management, but notice that it didn’t catch some obvious emergency services problems for years. If city government hasn’t done so yet, it also needs to undertake a comprehensive review to ensure professionalism in all areas and the use of modern practices and technology.
One way to ensure that regarding its emergency dispatch would be for Sea Isle City to join the Cape May County Dispatch Center.
Countywide dispatch systems are better at keeping up with technology improvements, controlling costs and ensuring dependable and secure operations even during a natural disaster. That’s especially important for barrier island communities such as Sea Isle, and that’s part of the reason Avalon, Stone Harbor, Wildwood Crest and Lower Township have joined the county system. Countywide dispatch already is used by Ocean, Burlington, Gloucester and Camden counties in South Jersey.
Last year when Wildwood Crest joined the system, its commissioner of public safety estimated the borough would save at least $90,000 a year to start on salaries, benefits and equipment repair and upgrades, rising to $150,000 in the third year.
The county dispatch center can provide a high level of service. In August, it added first-responder access in an emergency to patient information through the MedicAlert Foundation. Responders can see a patient’s medical needs on their way to help them.
Sea Isle City has been at the forefront of some technologies and services for barrier island residents and visitors. Last June, it launched the state’s largest flood-alert system — with an online camera on an intersection that often floods and 78 warning signs that flash when there is flooding, as determined by sensors in the bases of five of them. The system also alerts dispatchers, who confirm the start of flooding and alert the public with a text message.
Joining the Cape May County Dispatch Center would improve and make more reliable the city’s dispatching services, and strengthen this important joint effort by municipalities at more than the usual risk of natural disasters.