Saranac Lake fire, EMS will be added to 911 dispatch

MALONE – Saranac Lake is looking to shift its fire and rescue squads to Franklin County 911 dispatch in the next 30 days, according to the county’s head of Emergency Services.

County legislators also agreed to extend a pilot program giving Tupper Lake’s and Malone’s village police departments county 911 dispatching for another year.

County Emergency Preparedness Director Ricky Provost said at a meeting Thursday that the county may need to add more dispatchers before long as more groups come online and the number of calls constantly increases.


Saranac Lake fire and rescue

Franklin County dispatchers now handle about 60 percent of the emergency calls in Saranac Lake, said village Manager John Sweeney. If you dial 911 from any place with a phone number starting with 891 and 897, it goes to Franklin County, but many people call local fire or police stations instead.

The idea is to make Franklin County 911 the primary call center for emergency calls in Saranac Lake, Sweeney said. That would mean educating the public, he said, telling people to call 911 rather than local emergency numbers.

Sweeney said village officials have met with the fire department regarding the change. Fire Chief Brendan Keough said there are still some issues to iron out, and he was under the impression that there were no final decisions yet.

There are two main issues that the fire department is concerned with: A number of businesses, homes and other structures have alarm systems that automatically put calls in to the Saranac Lake fire station when there is an issue, and it would be complicated to shift all those to another number. There’s no master list of those anywhere, Keough said.

The other issue is that the fire department wants to maintain the local dispatching center. Department members support the idea of emergency calls going to the county dispatching center because those dispatchers provide useful training, but then they want local calls forwarded to the Saranac Lake fire station’s emergency line.

“When there’s a discrepancy with the call, our guys can sort it out very quickly because of their familiarity with the area,” Keough said.

Keough said Saranac Lake’s dispatchers work well with the county’s dispatchers.

There are also questions about what will happen with fire calls to Paul Smiths and Bloomingdale, which are now dispatched from the Saranac Lake fire station as well.

“We support 911 fully, but there are just some details that are not clear how they’re going to work out,” Keough said.

Sweeney said the county’s dispatching provides information important on emergency calls, including a person’s phone number and approximate location.

Police pilots

The pilot programs giving county dispatch to the Tupper Lake and Malone police departments expired in January. Legislators looked at extending them for another three months but decided to run them until the end of 2013, then re-examine them in the budget process.

The county now dispatches for the Tupper Lake police seven nights a week, from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night except Friday and Saturday, when it starts at 3 p.m.

Provost said the programs have been going well, there have been no complaints, and they are not costing the county any extra money right now.

Legislator Marc “Tim” Lashomb, R-Malone, said that if the Saranac Lake Police Department is added, that may tip the scale and create a need for more dispatchers.

Tim Burpoe, who represents Saranac Lake on the board, said he will support the Tupper Lake and Malone police department pilot programs being extended, but he said he wanted his fellow legislators to keep that in mind if Saranac Lake’s police department decides to shift to Franklin County dispatching, and he hopes there wouldn’t be resistance to it.

Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith, D-Fort Covington, said he would prefer if the idea came from the Saranac Lake organizations. Sweeney noted that Burpoe was behind the push for Saranac Lake’s services to switch primarily to Franklin County dispatching.

Need more help

Provost and his deputy director, John Bashaw, gave a report on all the 911 calls to the county in 2012. The total number has increased to 64,882, up about 8,000 calls from last year. In 2012, wireless calls started to outgrow the number of calls from a landline as well.

Provost said that there has been a serious boost of calls in the last year between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. He generally only has two dispatchers on during that shift, and he said any time there’s been a major emergency event, that has become an issue.

With the number of calls growing in general and more entities shifting to Franklin County dispatching, Provost said he may need to add more dispatchers to handle the call volume.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or