York County's emergency paging system failed to notify all fire departments that were supposed to respond to a three-alarm fire in York City Thursday, and officials say they're taking "corrective action" in response to the outage.
The system failed to page at least one department that was called for backup on the third alarm of a fire at West Philadelphia Street and North Belvidere Avenue. When the page failed, an unnamed county employee also failed to follow protocol by alerting emergency responders of the outage so dispatches could be transmitted through another medium, such as by telephone, said county spokesman Carl Lindquist.
As a result, firefighters in nearby West Manchester Township were unaware they had been summoned to help control the blaze, said York City Fire Chief David Michaels.
The paging system failed at approximately 1:15 a.m. Thursday, during the height of the fire that damaged six city buildings. County technology workers were notified immediately and had the system working again about 55 minutes later, Lindquist said.
Typically, a backup system would have been automatically activated by the paging-system failure; however, the back-up system was down for repairs and will be down for another 7-10 days, Lindquist said.
Little effect: Michaels said he plans to further "sort out" the problem with county personnel during a meeting this week, but he doesn't believe the paging failure affected the outcome of the fire.
The fire was so far under way when city crews arrived, the goal response was to keep it contained to the six-unit stretch that was already on fire and prevent flame or ember spread to nearby buildings, Michaels said.
The additional manpower could have been used to relieve tired firefighters, or the additional manpower might not have even been used for anything, he said.
"We'd rather have it coming and turn it back if it's not needed," he said.
The first and second alarms were paged successfully, and it appears the problem only occurred for some of the departments needed on the third alarm, he said.
Michaels said the two main concerns he plans to share with the county are that the backup system stay online as much as possible and that notification protocol be followed if there is another outage.
"When it happened, we weren't able to tell people, 'Hey, the paging is down so be sure to monitor this talk group," he said. "We didn't realize the (paging system failed) until well after the fact."
Actions coming: Lindquist said the county's primary response will be getting the backup system online, and the necessary parts have been ordered.
The county employee who failed to follow the notification procedure will be disciplined and/or giving additional training, he said.
It's not clear why the system went offline briefly; the system works "99 percent of the time," and no system works 100 percent of the time, Lindquist said.
County officials anticipate infrequent outages, and that's why there's a backup system and backup failure procedure in place, he said.
He said the system, which pages fire departments and emergency medical personnel, sent more than 159,700 successful pages in 2013.
The paging system is separate from the radio system, which is undergoing a $27 million update mandated by the federal government.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.