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San Diego Fire & Medical Dispatch

9-1-1 Do you have an emergency?


This site is devoted to the dispatchers of the San Diego City Fire Dispatch Center!
The finest dispatchers in the world!!! From Americas' finest city!

This site will be revised soon as the dispatch center has been reorganized and upgraded to operate a new model of emergency delivery...

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rev. 11-20-97 ver. 1

Welcome to the Comm Center

Load 911 operator & dispatch tape of Medic Unit #110 Medical Aid Traffic

Load 911 operator & dispatch tape of Medic Unit #103 Medical Aid Fall

Telephone recording stating that 911 is "not" a valid number.

Note: Very large files, please be patient:

Hello and Welcome to the Fire Communications Center, the first 1st Responders of Emergency Medical Services and Fire Fighting in the City of San Diego.

Hello and welcome to the comm center, the first in the chain of Emergency Medical Services. Let us take some time to explain how things work in one of the nations finest Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP). With the growing population and technology it was only prudent that a centralized answering point for all emergencies be put into effect, thus, the birth and evolution of 9-1-1. The 9-1-1 system in San Diego has grown from using paper, pencil, and magnets stuck to a map; to a top of the line Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system (rated one of the nations finest). The growth of the computer assisted dispatch system meant saving valuable seconds, even minutes in getting help to people in need. Not only does it benefit the public, but the EMS system as well. Using computers to track and process everything from the callers location information to recording the dispatchers triage decision, even noting paramedic locations and times, allows EMS personnel to review and compare standards on a nation-wide scale. This Q&A as it is so called keeps us on the brink of technology, never allowing us to fall behind where public safety is concerned.

Let us take some time to explain how things work at one of the nation's finest Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP). With the growing population and increase in technology it was prudent that a centralized answering point for all emergencies be designed, thus the birth of 9-1-1. The 9-1-1 system in San Diego and Poway has grown from using pen, paper and magnets on a map, to the latest state-of-the-art computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems. When you dial 9-1-1 from your home phone in San Diego, your first contact is with the San Diego Police Department. (from your cell phone you will get the California Highway Patrol, and from home phones in Poway you get the San Diego Sheriffs Office) These highly-trained 9-1-1 operators handle many hundreds of calls a day and are tasked with not only processing requests for law enforcement, but transferring Medical and Fire related calls to the Fire Communications Center (FCC).

Once transferred to the FCC, you will be asked "Where is your emergency?" Your address and telephone number must be verified before the call can continue. If you have a fire, tell us what is burning, if you have a medical aid, wait for the dispatcher to ask a few general questions. But you may be asked questions that seem irrelevant or even ridiculous, but they are important in helping to establish the level of response you need. The growth of this system has meant the saving a seconds, even minutes getting help to people in need.

So, not only the public, but the Fire/EMS system benefits from this technology. Using computers to track and process everything from the caller's location information and the dispatchers triage decision to noting paramedic locations and times, allows EMS and fire personnel to review and compare response data and other information on a nation-wide scale and improve delivery of these services.

What's so special about your stuff ?

The equipment used by San Diego City's paramedic dispatch is by no means lacking in technology. Many years of planning and hard work have made our CAD one of the nations most highly regarded. How does it work? What is so special about your stuff you might ask? Lets find out.

The equipment used by San Diego City's Fire and Medical dispatch is by no means lacking in technology. Many years of planning and hard work have made our CAD one of the nations most highly regarded. How does it work? What is so special about your stuff, you ask? Let's find out!

The number one goal of any EMS system is to get help to the patient as quickly and as safely as possible. The system in San Diego has perfected this (or so we like to think). We have set the bar very high for ourselves. Our goal is to get help en route to your address within 30 seconds of receiving your call. In reality a high percentage of our calls are dispatched within 15 seconds of address verification. That's pretty fast, and why shouldn't it be; in EMS time accounts for 99% of everything. To reach this goal takes more than just good dispatchers, but great equipment

CAD is a generic term used to describe all computer-associated processes used in the FCC. When we talk about CAD we are also talking about several interfaces or additions to the CAD platform that perform other necessary functions to enhance dispatch operations. These interfaces include paging, station alerting, ANI/ALI, and Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) interoperability.

Anatomy of a call

When Joe. Q. Public dials 9-1-1, his address, phone number, and in most cases his name or business is displayed on a computer screen, and with a simple click of a key that address is dumped into the CAD and the call begins. At this point the triage system is activated. By asking specific, time-tested questions, the dispatcher will be directed to the proper level of response for each medical aid call. These triage guidelines have been developed under the auspices of Dr. Jim Dunford and the SDFD Medical Dispatch Review Committee who meet on a monthly basis to provide quality assurance and feedback. San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's Fire Communications Center is one of only a handful of centers across the country and around the world that are a Center of Excellence awarded to dispatch centers that meet or exceed the medical protocol compliance goals set by the NAED (National Academy of Emergency Dispatch).

After the call level is determined, the call taker, trained as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) is directed to a set of Post Dispatch and Pre-Arrival instructions. These instruction can be are as basic as, "Don't have anything to eat or drink; not even water" and "Unlock the front door and turn on the outside light" to step-by-step life saving instruction including CPR, Childbirth and Choking sequences. At one time every dispatcher was an EMT or EMT-P; however this is no longer the case as the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch (NAED) certifies each dispatcher for medical call triage, provides support in the form of Continuing Education (CE) and has developed a peer call review process. Each EMD is also certified in CPR.

If Joe Q. Public is calling to report a fire, the dispatcher needs to know where the fire is and what is burning. A frequent frustration for dispatchers (and firemen) is poor location information. It is very important that the dispatcher gets the best location information possible. The CAD systems best feature (IMHO) is the map display. When reporting a grass (now called vegetation) fire for example, the map allows the dispatcher to "look" at the address of the calling party and then ask questions about the direction the caller is looking to determine the location of the fire. When the caller is reporting a fire in a house, even if a small fire, each dispatcher is trained to tell the caller to evacuate the building and not try to fight the fire. Citizens are never encouraged to fight any fire themselves, regardless of the size. We do provide some pre-arrival instructions for certain types of fires. For example, if Jane Q. Public is reporting an oven fire, we must determine if the fire is ON top of the oven or IN the oven. If on top, we consider that a structure fire until proven otherwise and tell everyone to get out of the house. In the case of a fire IN the oven, we tell Ms. Public to keep the oven door closed and if it is safe to do so, turn the oven OFF.

The fire dispatcher also takes calls for a variety of non-medical requests for service. Some of those calls include, ringing fire alarms, vehicle lock-outs, hazardous materials, fuel spills and snake removals (Poway only).

Ammunition, fireworks, unexploded ordnance - If you encounter ANY of these items, no matter how safe they may appear, keep yourself and everyone else clear and call 9-1-1. Old naval ordnance, dynamite and other explosive materials can become very unstable after years in the elements.

"Emergency Medical Dispatch Certified"

What about the dreaded "System Status Plan"? Aside from call taking, dispatchers are in charge of keeping the system status under constant scrutiny. Making sure every part of the city can receive an ALS unit in under 8 minutes is every dispatchers responsibility (and nightmare). Dispatchers control this with guidelines set by the 'System Status Plan'. This plan as well is reviewed by a group of peers from the field and dispatch on a regular basis, to assure adequate response times as well as fairness to unit work load. Even though technology has given us computers that automatically pick the closest units, it is the dispatchers job to closely evaluate each dispatch for correctness. One piece of new equipment that greatly aids the dispatcher is the Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL). Using satellite tracking technology, the dispatcher is able to pin-point precisely, a units exact location for a response. It also comes in handy for routing a unit into a scene, in the instance a map page is missing.

Dispatch Operations

Since the civilianization of dispatch (July 2003) tremendous strides have been made in improving the delivery of our services to Operations and the public. Dispatchers now work 12 hour shifts on a staggered day off schedule having every other weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) off. To cover peak times of service demand, there are overlap shifts (eight -hour) are also staffed on specific days. We have just had two retirements in Dispatch, with Ed Del Ponte (28 years) and Janet Hawkesworth (24 years) calling it a career. We are in the process of hiring 4 full-time and 2 hourly dispatchers. The full-time dispatchers should begin classroom training on or about July 1st.


We still struggle with out-of-date equipment. The MDT's and paging interfaces to the CAD are two main sticking points, as are some CAD related issues. IT& C and CAD personnel are doing the best to address these issues. We have a Push-to-Talk feature in CAD that identifies the unit calling on radio by call sign. This technology is over ten years old and cannot be repaired. When this module fails we no longer have this very important tool.

Did you know: …

The dispatcher you talk to on Admin is the same dispatcher that voices ALL dispatches, monitors the status of ALL units, including mutual aid units and is primarily responsible for ALL SDFD/Poways unit selections? …

The dispatcher you talk to on Command 3 is also monitoring Command 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, County Red, and Lifeguard Dispatch 1. This dispatcher (unless they have a working fire or a potential working fire) is also a 9-1-1 call taker? …

Dispatch cannot re-send MDT incident information to your MDT …

AVL positioning is sometimes 1-2 minutes behind in updating apparatus locations. (We don't always know where you are!) …

Your apparatus has to be In Quarters (AIQ status) to receive overhead tones and voice. …routine information provided over the telephone (i.e. change in status, pager or portable information) can generally be given to ANY dispatcher, not just the Dispatch Supervisor.

All in all, we should feel lucky to live in an era where technology and training combined make our world a safer place to thrive. I'm sure as it has from the beginning of it's existence, the PSAP 9-1-1 system will continue to expand to new horizons.

Remember, we are here to help you and live by the credo, Always Ready, Always Caring, Always There!

What's next: Stand by...

Disclaimer: Please note: The Fire Communications Center was reorganized in July 2003. All uniformed personnel assigned to the FCC have returned to operations or retired. The FCC is now under the administration of a civilian Communications Manager and the general supervision of an Assistant Fire Chief. The CAD platform, while still on Pentium-based PC's is Windows 2000 rather than NT based and now has First Watch (mass casualty) software also on the server. The current American Tri-Tech software has design upgrades to accommodate the departments new Mobile Data Computers (MDC).

More Information here:

Go to American Tritech for a tour of their dispatch operating systems. The system is installed here in San Diego and is the newest from their techincians and engineers.

911, What are you reporting? An insiders look at 911; a dispatch supervisors perspective... "What she wants to know when you call 911..." Also more links here.
by, Linda Olmstead, CHP Dispatch Communications Supervisor; Montery, CA.

VHF Communications, Inc. Motorola Communication Systems & Solutions.

511???A new alternative non-emergency number.

311???It is already in operation at Acadian Ambulance!!!

The Break Room...EMS BreakRoom

Portland Oregon Bureau for Emergency Communications Dispatcher

The 911 Responder

The association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, INC.

The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

The National Telecommunications Information Administration

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Comments or ???

Text was written by Jon Baker, E.M.T.1-A Medical Dispatcher.

Send E-Mail to: The San Diego Medical Dispatch.

To contact the Dispatch Medical Director send E-Mail to: Dr. Jim Dunford.

To contact the Medical Director for the County of San Diego, Department of Health Services, Division of Emergency Medical Services; Mel Ochs M.D., F.A.C.E.P. Click here!

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