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Aug 27, 2014 10:34 PM by LiLi Tan, KSBY News

UPDATE: National fire agency weighs in on 911 call handling for Oceano house fire

The National Fire Protection Association says the total response time for the Oceano house fire last week is within its standards, though call handling for the initial 911 call does not fall within its recommended time frame.

KSBY News spoke with Ken Willette, public fire protection division manager, and he says the agency sets a series of benchmarks for call handling so emergency crews have enough time to respond. The NFPA recommends from the time the very first 911 call is answered, that it take 1 minute 45 seconds to notify the appropriate fire agency. The standard allows for some room, up to 2 mins 40 secs, to allot for situations that call for multiple transfers and alarms coming in via cell phone, email, text and other methods.

Willette reviewedthe call timelines supplied to KSBY News by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, California Highway Patrol, CAL FIRE, Grover Beach Police Dept. and Five Cities Fire authority.

A land line call that came into the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, transferred to Grover Beach dispatch, who then notified Five Cities Fire took 2 mins 19 seconds. This is within the standard, according to Willette.

However, the cell phone call that came in more than a minute before the landline call went first to CHP, whose dispatchers transferred the call to CAL FIRE in 44 seconds; CAL FIRE sent the information to Grover Beach via their computer-aided dispatch system in 1 minute 16 seconds; and Grover Beach alerted Five Cities Fire in 1 min 49 secs.

"It's that continuum. Now the more you transfer the calls and the more time that's added to it...if it goes beyond the amount of time for our recommended standards, it widdles down the amount of time responders have to intervene," Willette said.

The agencies say they indepedently met the time standards, but Willette says it's supposed to be a collective effort.

"The intent of the standard is that is one block of call, from the first call to the responders going... Is that 1 minute and 45 seconds to two minutes 40 seconds. It doesn't accumulate over each independent agency. For the alarm handling part, if you look at that in isolation, they did not meet the recommended standards," Willette said.

Agencies say their dispatchers acted swiftly.

"We transfered it right away. This one was under 40 seconds," CHP Capt. Matt Olson said.

"We had part of that and our response was fast, as fast as any dispatch center could do," CAL FIRE Chief Robert Lewin said.

"Would we like to see it lower? Sure. There's going to be adjustments, and our review of this material is allowing us to make those necessary adjustments," Grover Beach Police Commander John Peters said.

Peters says his department has come up with ways to shave about 1 minute off some dispatch times, by reducing the number of transfers. He says they are meeting again on Tuesday to discuss future emergency call handling.

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The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, Cal Fire and California Highway Patrol invited KSBY News to the Sheriff's Office Thursday afternoon to clarify their call timelines.

"All three dispatch centers really exceed all protocols and all procedures and the timelines for response," San Luis Obispo County Undersheriff Tim Olivas said.

Here is the timeline for 911 calls. The numbers have been supplied by the three aforementioned agencies, as well as Grover Beach Police Department and Five Cities Fire Authority.

12:09:11 CHP received first 911 cell phone call
12:09:55 Cal Fire receives transfer of cell phone call from CHP
12:11:11 Cal Fire transfers info from 911 call to Grover Beach dispatch via CAD system
12:11:22 Cal Fire dispatched first mutual aid engine from Mesa department
12:11:27 Grover Beach dispatch receives information
12:12:12 Cal Fire transfers info from 911 call to Grover Beach via phone
12:13:16 Grover Beach dispatch sends tones to Five Cities Fire
12:17:52 Five Cities Fire first engine arrives on scene
12:18:33 Cal Fire mutual aid engine arrives on scene

12:10:57 San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office receives first 911 call from landline in Oceano
12:11:35 Sheriff's Office transfers call to Grover Beach dispatch
12:13:16 Grover Beach dispatch sends tones to Five Cities Fire
12:14:23 Sheriff's Office transfers calls to Cal Fire when can't get through to Grover Beach
12:17:52 Five Cities Fire first engine arrives on scene

The National Fire Protection Association says their standard for "alarm handling" response, including answering, transferring and processing is 1 minute and 45 seconds for 90 percent of calls and up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds for 99 percent of calls.

The call handling from the time the first 911 call came into CHP and transferred it to Cal Fire to when Grover Beach got the call to when Five Cities Fire was notified: 4 minutes and 5 seconds total.

From the first 911 call to when Cal Fire dispatched an engine: 2 minutes and 11 seconds.

From the Sheriff's Office's first 911 call to when Grover Beach got the call to when Five Cities Fire was notified was 2 minutes and 19 seconds.

All agencies say they completed their segments within the NFPA standard.

"The time between CHP receiving the first call and Cal Fire transferring to Grover Beach Police Department is 1 minute and 16 seconds," Olivas said.

"We are confident all our actions were done appropriately and within the proper time frames," Cal Fire Chief Robert Lewin said.

An NFPA representative says, however, the time is counted from when the very first 911 call comes in to the time the appropriate fire agency is notified. That is no matter how many agencies are involved and how many times the call is transferred.

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From the time the first 911 call was made to when fire crews arrived on scene at a fire in Oceano Thursday, it took 8 minutes and 32 seconds, according to Grover Beach Police Commander John Peters.

At press time, various agencies involved in the emergency call and response are still investigating why it took dispatchers close to five minutes to notify Five Cities Fire Authority of a house fire in their area on Thursday around noon. This is more than twice the 1 minute 45 seconds the American Fire Protection Association recommends it should take to handle an alarm, including answering, transferring and processing an emergency call.

Five Cities Fire's Interim Battalion Chief Randy Steffan says 911 calls went first the California Highway Patrol, to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office, to Cal Fire, back to the Sheriff's Office, then to Grover Beach Police Dept. dispatch, before ending up where the call needed to be, with Five Cities Fire.

"We're experiencing some initial dispatch delays. Not only on fires, but on traffic accidents and medical aids as well," Steffan said, explaining the transfers are due to recent dispatch consolidations. "If we don't know about the call, we can't respond until we're dispatched."

CHP says their first 911 call came in at 12:09 p.m. Five Cities Fire says they heard from dispatchers at 12:14 p.m., then their first engine arrived on scene at Beach Street in Oceano at 12:17.

Neighbors say they started calling 911 starting at noon, and as flames rose 15 to 20 feet in the air, wondered why they weren't hearing sirens.

"Still no fire trucks, so i called 911. I couldn't get through and I called three times," next door neighbor Curt Bevington said.

Neighbor Allan Mackenzie says he was lucky his house came away with little damage; however, he believes the fire could have remained in the backyard shed rather than spreading to the house had fire crews been dispatched earlier.

"It became very clear just how fortunate I was," Mackenzie said. "It does make me wonder who's minding the store. Because obviously the oversight on this...they took their eyes off the ball."

KSBY News is consolidating call records from the various agencies, and will continue to follow the story. Peters says Grover Beach Police are also investigating, as is the Sheriff's Office, to find out why there was a lag during that incident. He says some of the times may be off, as some of the agencies use a world clock to record times, while others manually enter them.

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