Changes to the emergency call system in Lebanon could increase response times

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LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) — Lebanon’s mayor is making changes to the city’s emergency call system, but not all public safety executives are on board.

Right now, Wilson County 911 dispatchers are on the phone directly with the Lebanese Fire Department, but Mayor Rick Bell’s plan will add a step to the process.

From Monday, calls from the Lebanese Fire Brigade will begin at Wilson 911 and will be routed to the Lebanese Police Department’s communications center. These operators will then dispatch firefighters to emergencies.

Mayor Bell said the city used $6 million in taxpayer money years ago to buy a state-of-the-art radio system to make shipping “more efficient and centralized,” and it needs to be put to better use. This system also makes it possible to send the police and fire brigade to the scene at the same time.

But Lebanese Police Chief Chris Dowell says the addition of a “middleman” in the shipping chain could add up to three minutes to response times.

“Moments, seconds, minutes. They call it. It actually plays a big part in what we’re doing to try to save someone’s life,” Dowell said.

Mayor Bell insists the new process won’t take that much time.

“I think adding 2 or 3 minutes isn’t accurate at all and that’s because I think this system works really well. It worked well before, and it will work well again,” Mayor Bell said.

Karen Moore, executive director of Wilson County 911, says Lebanon Fire was deployed this way before 2019. But at that point, Chief Dowell asked his department to dispatch directly to speed up response times.

Moore says the system has worked well for the past three years and wonders why the mayor is changing the process now.

“The data shows that it is much better. lives were saved. Fire engine arrival times are a few minutes faster,” Moore said.

Moore estimates it will now take at least 30 seconds to a minute for Wilson County 911 operators to collect information from callers and then route the call to the Lebanon Communications Center.

“It will delay it immediately,” Moore said. “I worry about the citizens.”

Moore adds that neither the mayor nor any members of the Lebanon City Council have come to the Wilson County 911 Center to see how the new process will work.

“I would like to believe that we are all on a common ground, that we want what is best for the citizens. But I believe I’m bringing the best product out there for the people,” Chief Dowell said.

The new shipping system goes online on Monday. Chief Dowell disagrees with the quick decision, but Mayor Bell says he thinks it would be better for the city.

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“We want to ensure that Lebanese citizens have the best possible protection and we believe this is the right way to go,” Mayor Bell said.

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