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Incident Dispatch Team

IDT: The San Jose Fire Department Dispatch Team

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Established for rapid deployment to localized major alarms, the San José Fire Department Incident Dispatcher Team (IDT) provides an on-scene communications support group, releasing fire ground units to resume tactical operations while providing command post assistance to an incident commander. The concept integrates the dispatcher's unique skills of multitasking, attention to detail, hearing-and-repeating information accurately, right into the command post. Incident Dispatchers at work in Command Van 1

In addition to communications support, IDT dispatchers provide resource status support for extended-attack and major incidents, and also assume the role of incident documentation unit, providing thorough documentation of incident transactions and communication logs. Through use of ICS forms and T-cards, dispatchers, who daily keep track of dozens of resources at the Communications Center, integrate those skills into the field.

Incident dispatchers become the ears and voice of the incident commander (I/C), allowing him or her to truly manage the incident while IDT handles communications, resource accountability, and documentation management at the incident command post. Having a dispatcher on scene allows the I/C to concentrate on command decisions without being tied to the umbilical cord of his radio. The dispatcher handles fire ground communications, relaying command decisions to the I/C when needed.

“I believe the IDT is an integral asset in firefighter accountability and IC overload,” said Battalion Chief (BC)Kevin Conant. Referring to the participating of San José’s IDT at the Santana Row Fire in 2002, BC Conant added: “In addition to dispatchers in the control room, we had IDT in the City EOC and IDTs at each of the two command posts. Until the arrival of IDT, true resource tracking was not accomplished. Not one fatality or serious injury occurred at this historic 11-alarm fire, due partly to the command and control provided by our IDT.”

Standardized training for Santa Clara County's IDT dispatchers includes a 24-hour State Fire Marshall's Office certified Incident Command System (ICS), a 24-hour incident dispatcher course developed by the California Fire Chiefs Association's communications section, and additional training in local resource management provided by San José   Fire.

Command Van 1Since established support SJFD field operations in 1995, San José’s IDT has responded to more than three hundred emergency incidents within the city limits, including major fires, both structural and wildland, mass casualty incidents, hazardous materials situations, and special events such as the San José Grand Prix and countywide mutual aid wildland and high rise drills. In addition, through the California Fire and Rescue Mutual Aid system, San José incident dispatchers have supported major wildland fire incidents throughout the state, including the Highway 58 Fire (San Luis Obispo County, 1996), the Butte Complex (Butte County, 1999), the North Fork Fire (Monterey County, 2000), the Paradise Fire (San Diego County, 2003), the Hunter Fire (Mendocino County, 2006) and others.

San José’s incident dispatch members are certified and qualified as Radio Operators (RADO) within the state mutual aid system.

San José’s IDT has frequently been held up as a model for other agencies around the country that are establishing tactical incident dispatcher teams for the fire and rescue service.

San José’s Command Post Support Unit (Com26) is maintained and deployed by the IDT. In service since July 1997, Com26The Team at work provides an enclosed work area for incident dispatchers as well as the Incident Commander and support staff. The unit is equipped with three radio positions, two computer workstations, cellular communications, mobile repeater, a 20 foot antenna mast, generator, easy-up tent, awning, radio battery chargers, and other tools to support tactical communications, resource accountability, and incident documentation. This unit is due for replacement in 2007 with a new Type II Communications unit currently under development in the City vehicle shops.

“The Incident Dispatch Team spearheaded by the Communications Division of the San José Fire Department has proven itself a valuable resource time and time again at various emergencies,” said Acting Fire Chief Darryl VonRaesfeld. “Having the Incident Dispatch Team personnel on scene to assist with resource status, situation status and the radio communications, especially on the Command Channel, allows the incident commanders to concentrate on the strategy and tactics at hand.”

“I have been fortunate enough to work several times with IDT members,” said Deputy Chief Dana Reed. “My experience has been that they are invaluable in providing support to emergency scene operations and management.”