APCO president: Training certification programs are top priority
A couple of weeks ago, Urgent Communications spoke with Dick Mirgon about his year as president of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. This week we catch up with Bill Carrow, the communications section chief for the Delaware State Police, who last month began his term as APCO’s president. Carrow spoke extensively about one of his pet projects — training certification for 911 telecommunicators — and the progress that has been made to date.
Statewide training certification is sorely lacking nationwide. What is APCO doing about it?
The Professional Human Resources Taskforce (ProCHRT) was unveiled during National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week in 2009. The first step was to establish some very specific goals, first and foremost, to study what each state is doing, or what they’re mandating, in the way of training certification for telecommunicators. We knew that this was a nationwide problem. We knew that we had bits and pieces of training going on, some more elaborate than others — and that’s no way to run an airline, much less a public-safety answering point. You see in the media all the time stories about 911 calls that went awry.
The Denise Amber Lee tragedy has become the poster child for such events, has it not?
That’s what I was leading up to. You see these events on a weekly basis, but the Denise Amber Lee Foundation really hit home. We started studying the Denise Amber Lee case to understand what had happened. Two years prior to that event happening, APCO’s Florida chapter had been pushing for training certification across the state, but wasn’t successful.
What were the hurdles?
The hurdles basically were funding, number one, and, number two, getting the various entities down there — the sheriffs, the police and fire — to fully understand that this not only should be a requirement, but that it also is a necessity.
What has been accomplished so far regarding ProCHRT?
Where we really started gaining some ground is when we realized just how few states have any kind of mandated training. When you consider that the person who runs a tanning booth is required to have more training than our telecommunicators who are handling life-and-death decisions every day, that’s wrong. We now have an interim report that provides a report card for the country up to this point. It delineates the training that is going on state by state, and lists any agencies that are Project 33-compliant within a given state. There are 17 of those right now.
After reviewing this report card, what grade would you give in terms of the level of training certification across the country?
It would be a grade of “F.” There’s a lot of room for improvement.
What needs to be done? What’s the first step?
Basically, we wanted to gather information via ProCHRT that would let us create a tool kit that our members could use to go back to their home states and push for training certification. We never had this kind of information before. The next step is to use the success we’ve had in the state of Florida as a starting point for success in other states. Arkansas is one of those states — it has proposed legislation that was based on what they saw in Florida. I think this is going to be a groundswell. It’s not insurmountable anymore.
What else would you like to see accomplished in the coming year?
Right along those lines is promoting our Project 33, which has just been revised for 2010. It has been beefed up by adding the fire and EMS pieces to the dispatch function and by increasing the minimum requirements for all positions. My agency just went through it. That was one of the goals I set for myself — I wanted my agency not only Project 33–compliant, but also fully accredited.
Why was that so important to you?
When you do those things, you’re showing people that you’re trying to meet the best-of-the-best standards. So, what we want to do is promote that to every chapter, to show the importance of getting individual training programs P33-compliant.
Ed: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law in June a bill that requires 911 telecommunicators in the state to become certified and compile 232 hours of training before handling an emergency call.
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