911 guest column

Kelley

I am again writing to address the illogical 911 service in Wilson County. 

Thirty years ago, a referendum, passed by a large majority of Wilson County residents, stated that 911 services would decrease emergency response time, saving lives and property. However, a year after beginning 911 services at the county ambulance service (Civil Defense), which had an existing dispatch center, the Wilson County 911 Board voted to create a separate 911 call receiving and transfer center. That move would increase emergency response time for medical emergencies because those calls, like all emergency calls, would then require the 911 call to be transferred, resulting in unnecessary life-threating delays and requiring the caller to repeat the emergency situation. 

Wilson County’s 911 Board has maintained this illogical 911 transfer service. Its deliberate actions violated the public’s trust and expectations in the vote to establish the 911 service by increasing rather than decreasing emergency response time. 

All 911 services in Tennessee are fully funded by a $1.16 fee charged to each landline and mobile phone in the state. These fees are disbursed to local 911 boards, which have the authority and responsibility to provide the best 911 service possible. 

Currently, 85 percent of 911 boards in the state have established “centralized dispatch” centers where all 911 calls are received, and responders dispatched from one location, with no transfers. All but one of the other 15 percent deliver 911 calls directly to one or more emergency responder (police or ambulance) dispatchers. 

For years, Wilson County has been the only county in the state where all 911 calls are intercepted by a 911 call taker and transferred to applicable emergency responders, knowingly delaying response time. This option has been chosen by 911 board members, appointed by county mayors who have continued to appoint and reappoint known obstructionists who oppose life-saving changes, like central dispatch.

Yet, to this day, the board has failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its objection to change. In 2016, Mt. Juliet and Lebanon asked the board to discuss possible changes to improve 911 service but the board refused to provide that opportunity. Wilson Countians deserve, and expect, prompt emergency services as provided in the referendum.

Thankfully, State Rep. Lowell Russell from East Tennessee has introduced legislation (HB1673) that requires the remaining 15 percent of counties, including Wilson, to have a centralized dispatch center for emergency 911 calls by January 2022. 

Coincidently, there is other legislation proposing a 30 percent increase in 911 fees, from $1.16 to $1.50. Moreover, the local 911 board is spending over $1 million annually to maintain the “all transfer” service and now spending roughly $600,000 for remodeling and technical improvements to the current 911 office while their efforts to entice all emergency agency dispatchers in the county to move to their location failed. 

In preparation for the passage of legislation requiring central dispatch the expensive ill-advised renovations to the 911 office should be cancelled, 911 should stay at WEMA and use those funds to pay for much needed renovations there, or contribute to the much-needed jail expansion and move 911 call takers and WEMA dispatchers there. 

Then, over the next two years, honest efforts to include Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown police and fire department dispatch could be realized. Of course, 911 would forfeit its decades long turf protection solidarity, so these options are not likely to occur without passage of central dispatch legislation. That’s why it’s so very important.

Therefore, with all this in mind, I implore every citizen of Wilson County that cares about their safety and the safety of their family, friends and our visitors to contact state Rep. Susan Lynn, State Rep. Clark  Boyd and State Sen. Mark Pody and ask them to promote and support HB1673 and its companion bill in the state senate. 

Additionally, and equally important, is to contact Mayor Randall Hutto, who appoints the 911 Board members, and ask for his commitment to support this legislation and to appoint only Board members that embrace life-saving change. 

Coincidently, attending his “What makes Wilson County the best county in the state of Tennessee” presentation at the Venue, 149 Public Square in Lebanon on Feb. 25 at 7:30 a.m. would be a very appropriate time to promote this most important legislation, which, if passed, would truly make this the best county to live in.

J.R. Kelley is a former director of Wilson County 911 services.

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