Without a base, South Central Search and Rescue Team faces delayed dispatches

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
The South Central Search and Rescue Team. Photo provided by team president Michael Fischer.

The South Central Search and Rescue Team says every minute counts — but its members claim a rare county policy that doesn't allow them to be dispatched directly by the 911 Center is delaying their potentially life-saving efforts.

With 50 members, including a K-9 squad, the team has answered between 25 and 35 calls for help annually since its inception in 1998, said team president Michael Fischer. They were called three times last week alone, including for a missing man in Windsor Township who was later found. 

But Fischer said missing persons or those subject to emergencies aren't receiving the the fastest response they could get, as the team isn't in the county's WebCAD system, which allows the dispatchers at the 911 center to directly dispatch emergency service personnel.

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"It has been a painstaking process that we are still fighting for today," Fischer said, adding they've fought the county on the matter for more than two years. "If we're not able to be dispatched in a timely manner, it's the community that suffers."

York County's policy says a rescue team must have a "first due response area" to be dispatched through the WebCAD system, said county spokesman Mark Walters.

A first due response area is the specific region a fire or rescue entity has jurisdiction over relative to the where it's based. Even though its services are countywide, the South Central Search and Rescue Team doesn't have a physical base — leaving them without a dedicated first due response area.

"Any team being considered to be dispatched on the York County 911's CAD is a non-starter without a first due response area," Walters said.

The South Central Search and Rescue Team. Photo provided by team president Michael Fischer.

Chester, Cumberland, Lebanon and Lancaster counties all dispatch rescue teams directly from their 911 centers. They all confirmed they don't have such a policy.

In York, the search and rescue team is only in the 911 center's "resource book," which took two years to get into. If the team is needed, a center employee will contact one of the team leaders, who in turn has to dispatch the team themselves using their own system that costs $300 annually.

The process delays the response time of the rescue team, Fischer said. Paying for a permanent station to get into the WebCAD system would dig into money that allows the nonprofit team of volunteers to purchase equipment.

"Every dollar that gets donated to this agency goes back into the community in the form of either equipment or supplies to save someone's life," he said. "... I feel that that is more important to the people that we serve rather than saying that we have a building."

As a result of the county's refusal to put the team into the WebCAD system, Fischer said the county doesn't seem to recognize the team's importance as much as others that provide emergency services. 

But Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock emphasized the value of the team and acknowledged he's aware the issues its facing with the county's WebCAD system, although he wouldn't go into further detail.

"The team brings an incredible asset to the table, and my guys know that," he said. "They are professionals and put in an incredible amount of work. And they do it free as volunteers."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.