Fayette County

Lexington to add to 911 staff in wake of fire that killed 23 horses

Curtis Hale, a fire dispatcher for 10 years, worked in the new E-911 center following a grand opening celebration for the city's new Public Safety Operations Center on Cisco Road on Oct. 13.
Curtis Hale, a fire dispatcher for 10 years, worked in the new E-911 center following a grand opening celebration for the city's new Public Safety Operations Center on Cisco Road on Oct. 13. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Lexington will hire six temporary staff members to assist 911 operators after concerns were raised over the emergency response to a fire Sunday that killed 23 horses, an administrator said.

The new hires were also inspired by claims made two weeks ago by Lexington’s firefighters union that residents were being placed on hold when calling 911.

The search for employees has started this week, Glenn Brown, Lexington deputy chief administrative officer, said in a news release Tuesday. The city is looking to hire two temporary full-time employees and four temporary part-timers to start, said Susan Straub, director of communications for Mayor Jim Gray.

“We are putting staff in place to ensure our professional, trained operators can focus on the emergency calls coming into the E-911 center,” Brown said.

The center handles 911 calls and non-emergency calls for the fire and police departments. The additional staff will handle non-emergency calls, which account for about 53 percent of the volume, Brown said.

Lexington’s 911 center currently employs 24 call takers, 31 dispatchers, eight supervisors and three managers, Straub said. Dispatching was moved, without a reduction in staff, to a new home in October.

“The investigation into E-911 dispatch concerns surrounding the fire at Mercury Equine Center continues,” Brown said. “We must ensure our emergency services are excellent.”

The city is looking to put new permanent 911 positions into the budget, Straub said.

“The budget process is just getting underway,” Straub said. “We can hire temporaries much more quickly and have greater flexibility in assigning duties and scheduling.”

The concerns regarding Lexington’s 911 center began on Dec. 8 when Lexington Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 526 used Twitter to amplify complaints it had received from residents being placed on hold when calling 911. Those complaints were punctuated by Capt. Christopher Bartley, 42, who had been placed on hold when trying to report an accident earlier this month.

“I think there needs to be an ongoing investigation into response time,” Bartley said Tuesday in response to the latest hiring initiative. “We are requesting an evaluation of the overall operation of 911, the training, the staffing, everything involved.”

Public Safety Commissioner Ronnie Bastin confirmed on Dec. 8 that calls made to 911 could be placed on hold but he said 95 percent are answered within 10 seconds.

On Sunday afternoon, Mercury Equine Center owner Eric Reed criticized the fire department over how long it took for it to reach his Russell Cave Road property.

“There’s a fire station five minutes down the road but it took 39 minutes before they could get there to help us,” Reed said Sunday. “We actually called 911 twice asking where is the fire department. It’s absolutely unacceptable. … The fire department really let us down.”

The initial analysis of 911 records showed it took about 20 minutes for the fire department to be dispatched and arrive at Mercury, Straub said Monday.

“We continue to investigate the amount of time it took for the firetrucks to be dispatched,” Straub said Monday. “Once dispatched, it took the trucks approximately 13 minutes to reach the scene. Fire Department administration maintains that is a reasonable time, given road conditions and weather.”

Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso