By Al H Gillespie, Fire Chief, Retired
As the process of getting the Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) to first responders in the streets continues its amazing progress forward FirstNet/AT&T is making sure they not only meet their obligations spelled out in the RFP and their bid, but are going the extra mile to make sure they’re doing the right thing for public safety.
One of the exclusive benefits to first responders in states where the governor has opted in (32 states and territories at the time of this writing) and the first responder’s agency has selected, is already a customer or elects to become an AT&T covered agency is the access to a Call Center dedicated solely for them. I know! You heard me right, dedicated solely for them, no waiting in queue with the general public. The Call Centers are in the United States and answered by people in the United States.
As someone who has been working to make this network happen from almost the beginning I’m amazed at the progress that is happening and I want to do all I can to make sure we don’t stumble so near crossing the goal line of getting the network started (just one, of many goal lines to cross in this huge task). When I heard about the dedicated FirstNet Call Center my hair stood up on the back of my neck. I don’t mean anything derogatory toward those that work in call centers, but my experiences haven’t always been great. Those working there, in my experience, tend to be entry-level and tend to have a high turnover rate which concerned me.
With that in mind, when asked to help provide education on police history and operations, emergency dispatch centers history and operations and fire and EMS history and operations to those that would be filling the seats in the public safety call centers, myself (providing fire and EMS information) and two of my colleagues (one providing information on police information and one providing dispatch information), each of us retired with many years in our respective fields, jumped at the chance. These call center representatives also received instruction on the history, legislation, and role of The First Responder Network Authority, to provide them with a foundation to work with. The importance of the public safety caller was stressed, with potential real life scenarios discussed and the importance of these FirstNet calls being a priority that needs to be handled affectively, efficiently, and rapidly and possibly during times of life and death emergencies.
What we found was a great relief to us. The people that attended the training were hand picked for this role. They had an average tenure with the company of 15 years. And they were motivated to become the best they can be to help public safety through FirstNet.
Each group trained participated in two days of information on the history and current operations of Fire and EMS, police and sheriff and dispatch departments. They also had a great interaction with us on the future of communications and the use of FirstNet.
At the conclusion of the training, and as we train the rest of the centers around the country, I feel that those working in the dedicated FirstNet call centers will be there when we need them, they’ll be knowledgeable and able to help those first responders in need quickly and efficiently.
Chief Gillespie served the fire service for almost 40 years including 15 years as the Fire Chief of three large city fire departments. He also served as the Interim Executive Chief of East County Fire and Rescue. Chief Gillespie served as the President of the International Association of Chiefs (IAFC) 2011-12 and, as all past IAFC Presidents, serves on the President’s Council. During his tenure as President he was instrumental in helping the fire service and all public safety, through Congress, acquire the D-Block bandwidth. Chief Gillespie serves as the Principal of Executive Fire Consultants working with a major multi-national communications company on firefighter health and safety issues.