Call Wait Times Improving for SDFD

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department is seeing improvement on wait times on 911 calls, following an NBC 7 report highlighting the problem.

In data released to NBC 7, fourteen emergency callers waited more than a minute for an answer from the SDFD dispatch center between Sept. 7 and Sept. 17.

That number was down from 63 emergency 911 calls waiting for more than a minute between July 13 and July 24.

The call answer times were obtained through a California Public Records Act.

SDFD Fire Chief declined to sit down with NBC 7 and answer questions about the effort to fix the situation.

But Mónica Muñoz, a spokeswoman for the fire department, sent a statement, which in part, said the wait times are improving and the city is hiring more dispatchers to handle the call volume.

Last month, NBC 7 exclusively told you about how the Dispatch Center was "on the brink of crisis," according to the union leader for dispatchers.

"We are very proud of the exceptional work our dispatchers do, especially because they have experienced the burden of mandatory overtime recently," said Muñoz. "They represent our department well and provide excellent and often lifesaving service to the public."

The City and the Fire Department have significantly improved morale, staffing, and hiring, according to dispatchers, and confirmed by Muñoz.

The mayor authorized an increase in the total number of budgeted fire dispatcher positions, bringing the total to 51, according to Muñoz.

That was an increase of eight positions.

The department hired 14 new dispatchers who will start Monday.

The training period is about six months.

Fire dispatchers who were eligible received a $1,000 bonus or an increase from one pay step to the next higher pay step as an incentive, according to the city.

Mandatory overtime has been reduced, resulting in employees scheduling more overtime shifts on a voluntary basis.

"We have reduced the mandatory overtime being assigned by lowering the required staffing on the floor during a shift from ten dispatchers to eight," Muñoz confirmed. "More dispatchers are now volunteering for overtime on the days they desire versus being assigned (mandatory) an additional number of hours at the end of their shift or an additional shift on their days off."

The city is not out of the woods yet, according to dispatchers and the data. The most recent data provided to NBC 7 by Muñoz showed one call waiting longer than two minutes for an answer on Sept. 9.

This number was down drastically from call wait times for an approximately two-week period in July, obtained through the California Public Records Act.

About 19 callers waited more than two minutes for an answer between July 13 and Aug. 1.

These calls, however, are the rare exceptions, according to the data.

An overwhelming majority of calls – between 89 and 98 percent, depending on the day – are being answered in 15 seconds or less.

The dispatch center answered nearly 8,500 calls during the two-week period in July.

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