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Abilene fire department frustrated with new 911 dispatch system

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Abilene, Texas - Abilene's fire chief says the city's new 911 dispatch system - by Spillman Technologies - has posed several issues for the department.

The current Zetron system is outdated and isn't compatible with the Spillman system.

According to Fire Chief Larry Bell, the department was assured all of the current systems would work with what Spillman Technologies offered. But as soon as the system launched April 25, dispatch began experiencing problems with dispatchers entering information manually.

"The crews are becoming very frustrated and concerned for the very same reasons I am," Bell said. "A large increase in radio traffic leading to confusion, human error at dispatch and human error on the apparatus."

Since then, both the police and fire departments have had to upgrade several other systems.

Bell said between the departments they've reallocated funds to help pay for those upgrades. On Thursday the fire chief requested that the Abilene City Council approve a contract of more than $147,000 upgrade with Zetron.

The council voted to approve the purchase through the city's technology fund and credit from Spillman Technologies.

City Manager Robert Hanna said the city will get its technology department more involved to help prevent any future issues with vendors.

"There's blame to go around to Spillman," Hanna said. "I think they may carry the lion's share."

Bell said it will take about six to eight weeks before they can implement the upgraded system.

In the meantime the department will continue to work hard to make safety for its department and its citizens a priority.

The city of San Angelo is currently suing Spillman Technologies for its issues with the system. The department launched the system on June 16, 2016.

The lawsuit states, "System crashes became routine" and that every time the system crashed the solution was to reboot the system causing a delay to response calls.

The city of San Angelo says it's a result of poor training and incompetent oversight from the company.

The mapping system was also an issue for both San Angelo police and firefighters.

Court documents state workers had to use their phones to navigate calls. At times crews who were furthest from the scene were dispatched.

Court documents also revealed system failures creating, "tragic consequences." On January 13, 2017, dispatch received a call about a gunmen stating he was going to kill police. He started a fire at his the location to initiate a confrontation with police.

The San Angelo lawsuit states Spillman Technologies failed to notify duplicate calls at that location and dispatched firefighters and police. When firefighters arrived, it continues, they didn't know there was an armed man and quickly took cover behind an engine.

"Police arrived and weren't aware there was a fire," the lawsuit says. "The suspect was critically wounded by police, but not before several city firefighters were endangered."

The city of San Angelo said they cannot comment at this time because it is pending litigation.

Spillman Technologies denied the allegations made in the city of San Angelo's complaint.

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