Officials at the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center (WSCDC) are investigating a reported delay in dispatching River Forest and Oak Park fire fighters to assist Forest Park fire crews battling a blaze there early last Wednesday morning. In the wake of the event, several River Forest trustees who have recently expressed concerns regarding the timeliness of some WSCDC dispatching are suggesting this most recent incident is emblematic of the center’s alleged problems.
The dispatch delay forced Forest Park personnel to delay the rescue of three people trapped in the burning building. Those three people suffered only minor burns and smoke inhalation. A River Forest fire fighter was treated for a cut on his hand. The building, at 7700 Monroe Avenue, suffered heavy fire damage to a basement apartment and smoke and water damage to the two upper floors.
Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke confirmed Monday that he brought the incident to the attention of Oak Park Fire Chief William Bell and River Forest Chief Jim Eggert. He met with West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center deputy director Ron Gross last Thursday to discuss the incident.
At Glinke’s request, a memo was sent from Eggert to River Forest Village Manager Steve Gutierrez Friday, and copies were hand delivered Saturday to River Forest village trustees and Village President Frank Paris. Among other things, the memo confirmed that Gross had “confirmed an apparent problem with the dispatching of this call” and that a formal investigation had been initiated.
One River Forest Trustee, former village fire chief Russ Nummer, said Monday that he was seriously concerned about two issues. The dispatch of assistance to Forest Park, he said, should have been automatic. Forest Park’s fire staffing, as with most suburban fire departments, is predicated on assured timely assistance from neighboring departments under the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS.
Nummer said he was told a person at the Forest Park Dispatch Center telephoned WSCDC to inform them that there was a fire shortly after 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. That call, he said, constituted what’s termed a “full still.”
“Full still means you have a confirmed fire,” said Nummer. “There’s a human being saying there’s a fire.”
That should have led to an immediate dispatch, but didn’t. Glinke said it was several minutes before the Forest Park lieutenant on scene realized aided wasn’t enroute. That lieutenant personally radioed WSCDC and asked where his assistance was, at which point a River Forest engine returning from a previous service call headed for the fire location after monitoring the radio call to WSCDC.
Glinke said that while he was looking for answers from WSCDC, his main concern was that the circumstances that led to the dispatching delay not be repeated.
“I don’t care how it happened. I just want to know that it won’t happen again,” he said.
“My shift commander was out there expecting assistance that didn’t (arrive in a timely fashion),” he said. With two men handling water connection and hoses and one supervising, he said, just two fire fighters were free to rescue three people trapped in the building.
Some suggest events could have gotten much worse than they did.
“There was a lot of smoke and fire when (River Forest firefighters) pulled up,” said Nummer, who was fully briefed on the situation. “Things were going bad fast. They literally didn’t have enough personnel to rescue everybody at once.”
“When you’ve got three bodies in the windows with smoke jumping over their heads, that’s when a supervisor’s anxiety (really) rises,” said Glinke.
Nummer said he was also concerned that there was a nearly two minute difference between a Computer Assisted Dispatch record of the call processing for the fire (4 minutes, 35 seconds) and the length of time on an audio tape of the incident, 6 minutes, 27 seconds.
“There’s a discrepancy in what the CAD report says and the time on the actual audio tape,” said Nummer. “I have a concern, let’s just say that. Every time I look at a CAD report, I’m going to wonder whether it’s accurate.”
Glinke said he hoped to have a report back from WSCDC late this week.
Trustee Steve Hoke has been looking into problems at the WSCDC alleged by River Forest police, in his role as chairman of the River Forest board’s Police Committee. He said there needs to be a “sense of urgency and transparency associated with this inquiry.”
“While we should be careful not to generalize from an individual incident, there does seem to be a pattern based on the complaints of our front-line emergency responders, the police and fire departments. The Police Committee has been investigating these complaints, and will convene again in the near future to explore them in public view.”