Horry County 911 dispatchers to learn from mistake

CAROLINA FOREST, SC (WMBF) - Ninety-four calls came into the Horry County 911 Center concerning the Carolina Forest fire on March 16, which destroyed 26 buildings, and left more than 100 people homeless at the Windsor Green complex. The Saturday dispatcher also had to dispatch out 13 calls concerning brush fires in the county, as well as 19 other routine 911 calls.

"This event happened so quickly it was difficult to staff up quickly...so folks had quite a job ahead of them," explains Toni Bessent, the Horry County 911 Director.

Bessent has been the director for at least 15 years, before she was a dispatcher in the field. She said her team that day, "generally did a good job."

Twelve dispatchers were routing crews out to the fire. One dispatcher, who has not been named, made a mistake costing about three minutes in arrival time, dispatching the call for help to Myrtle Beach instead of Horry County. That dispatcher has since, according to Bessent, been dealt with on a personnel level.

Bessent said that kind of mistake happens occasionally, and now an action review will be conducted internally at the center, and all the dispatch centers in the county, to learn how they can make sure mistakes like that do not happen again.

"It will tell us what we did well and it will tell us what we need to improve on," Bassent continued. "We'll write an improvement plan and create procedures, identify capabilities we need and work toward that in the future because of this incident." Bessent said the report should be finished in about one month.

An equality insurance position was budgeted for this year, and is expected to be filled soon. The position was designed to help with calls as well. Bessent explains the position, "It would be their job to listen to and look at the records for calls and sit with employees and go over their performance grade, their performance and establish performance process. If they find deficiencies in those types of things, just make sure everybody is the best they can be."

When it comes down to a quick response time versus a slow one for fire crews, a Homeland Security study from back in 2006 shows first responders should ideally be on scene in under five minutes.

Reports show it took eight minutes for fire crews to get the Carolina Forest fire after the first call was dispatched, to when crews arrived on the scene.

According to Bessent, the 911 Center does not control the response time of crews to the scene of an incident.

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