After prolonged difficulties, dispatchers get upgraded radios

Dispatchers were forced to rely on the Uinta County Complex emergency radio system while awaiting their primary system’s replacement. (HERALD PHOTO/Hayden Godfrey)

EVANSTON — Uinta County dispatch radios have been replaced after creating a prolonged period of difficulty for dispatchers and first responders in Evanston and Bridger Valley. Uinta County Sheriff Doug Matthews confirmed the new radios are in use and fully operational. The magnitude of the dispatchers’ struggle was made especially clear during a Uinta County Commission work session on Tuesday, May 17, and likely played a considerable role in the system’s renewal.

“Put yourself in our shoes for a minute,” said dispatcher Gina Sundquist. “Panic sets in when we’re on an emergency call and can’t get help to our callers. As dispatchers we are trained for stressful situations, but the added stress of radio failure should not be a concern. We should have top-of-the-line equipment, because we cannot fail our community.”

Sundquist called Monday, May 16, the last straw, saying, “The radios worsened during the day shift, so my partner had to be here.” Sundquist was referring to the city hall’s emergency operations center. She then lost contact with the sheriff’s office. She said of this, “The paging system for the county at Code 1 (the sheriff’s office) didn’t work at all, so my partner and I had to communicate via instant messaging. I couldn’t help her, and she couldn’t help me.”

That day, dispatchers needed to contact a Bridger Valley ambulance in order to treat an overdose, but had no way of reaching one. Their solution was to call a third party by phone, who in turn paged an ambulance crew.

“I had no idea if an ambulance was going,” Sundquist said.

“Dispatch is short-staffed by great numbers, and we are already working 12-hour shifts to cover scheduling problems. We are working too hard as it is to have these problems added to the situation,” Sundquist said.

She told those in attendance at the May 16 meeting that dispatch needs to be prioritized. As the backbone of emergency services, she said, dispatch deserves a more reliable system, and should not need to improvise on the job as they had to that day.

She said there was a 9-minute period when no one in Bridger Valley knew that an emergency was taking place, causing a delay that Sundquist found was unacceptable. When reading a report by a colleague, Sundquist said, “We cannot serve the community to the best of our ability if we do not have the equipment to do so… Please do not make me or this family go through something like this again.”

“We love our community and we are very good at what we do but if we don’t have the equipment, we can’t do it. It’s so awful to be on the other end of the line and have people knowing nothing’s coming. It’s devastating to know we can’t get them the help they need,” Sundquist said. “Our community needs to rely on dispatch, because we are the lifeline for the entire county, and the county should be a priority.”

The commissioners said at the time that correcting the system’s flaws would be a priority.

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