Room To Grow

Becca Barrus

Becca Barrus

ACE Achievers

Placentia Public Safety Communications Center (PPSC) in Placentia, California (USA), has accomplished quite a lot in a short amount of time. The center implemented both the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®) and the Fire Priority Dispatch System (FPDS®) in July 2020, providing medical, police, and fire dispatch for their city of 50,000 people spanning a seven square mile area just northeast of Disneyland (Anaheim, California, USA).

Previously, Placentia police dispatch handled only calls for police response while forwarding calls for fire and EMS service to the Orange County Fire Authority. When the city of Placentia decided to create its own fire department, the opportunity arose to consolidate all its emergency dispatch functions and resources into one communication center.

As if creating their own department wasn’t impressive enough, four years after first implementing the MPDS, PPSC achieved ACE accreditation for the first time.

“I’m pretty proud of us,” said PPSC Communications Manager Stefanie Acosta-Reyes.

And she should be! When Acosta-Reyes first joined PPSC at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the position was brand new, and with the support of her direct supervisor, Deputy City Administrator Rosanna Ramirez, she had to figure out a lot by herself. PPSC didn’t have a procedure manual, so Acosta-Reyes spent many hours drawing on her 15 years of experience at another center to write over 100 standard operating procedures (SOPs).

She also changed the way that onboarding is done for Emergency Dispatchers. There’s now a standard process that involves full EMD, EFD, ProQA®, and CPR training as well as ride-alongs with the first responders they’ll be dispatching for.

“Stefanie is an overachiever for sure,” Ramirez said. “I am so proud of her. It was a tremendous accomplishment to become a full-service city and only have a couple months to get fully staffed and up and running and prepare them for a whole new way of dispatching.”

The idea to use the Priority Dispatch System (PDS) in the first place came from Patrick Powers, Placentia’s Emergency and Health Services Manager. Powers grew up in Placentia and became an EMT at 20 and then a paramedic at 30. He was working as a consultant for the city as they were planning their new emergency response system and wanted to implement one that was evidence-based and provided Emergency Dispatchers with structured questions.

“It was the city’s goal to be faster, more cost-effective, and more efficient,” Powers said. “The city wanted us to use all of our resources as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Ever since the MPDS and FPDS were implemented, dispatch has done a great job of asking appropriate questions and getting the right help to the right place at the right time.

The city formed a Quality Assurance Committee, bringing all of their public safety divisions to the table to discuss what metrics they wanted to use as a group and go over operational and organization issues.

After lots of hard work from everyone, including the line dispatchers, supervisors, and admin, Placentia Public Safety Communications Center was named an Accredited Center of Excellence by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED) in early 2024.

“Stefanie and I tried not to cry at the accreditation announcement,” Ramirez said. “We started from the ground up.”

In addition to receiving ACE recognition from the IAED, PPSC had the honor of receiving accolades from closer to home, too. At an official Placentia City Council meeting, the council formally recognized the accreditation with a certificate to the communication center from the city. The fire chief also gave Acosta-Reyes a challenge coin, and the chamber was full of other public safety personnel—including paramedics, police, and fire first responders—who all enthusiastically supported their dispatch center.

This wasn’t the only time the Emergency Dispatchers have been publicly recognized for their crucial role in the community’s safety. Because PPSC was a brand-new division, Acosta-Reyes got to be part of designing the center’s patch, which was then put on pins, challenge coins, and badges. Then they sent out nice, printed invitations to the Emergency Dispatchers, inviting them and their loved ones to a special badge-pinning ceremony in the council chambers. The attending Emergency Dispatchers had their family members pin them, a rite that’s usually reserved for law enforcement officers and firefighters.

“They felt really celebrated,” Ramirez said. “Stefanie and I looked at each other and said, ‘All of this work has been so worth it!’”

Acosta-Reyes makes a conscious effort to support her people every single day, not just at big ceremonies every once in a while. She created the “Danish with Dispatcher” program to make sure the Emergency Dispatchers are actively involved in the community; the program gives people the opportunity to sit down with an Emergency Dispatcher at a local coffee shop. The Emergency Dispatcher then explains what they do and why they ask so many questions. They also go to career days at the junior high and high schools and explain what it means to have a career in this field as well as speak at elementary schools to teach them how to call 911. The Emergency Dispatchers love participating in these events where they are actively out in the community, engaging with the people they serve.

The current headquarters of PPSC is in the Placentia Police Department’s headquarters, where they have a few small pieces of exercise equipment for common use, and they are encouraged to bring their yoga mats to stretch during shifts if needed. There’s a city peer support team that includes members of dispatch, police, fire, and EMS where they can talk about calls that have impacted them. They’re strongly encouraged to take breaks, like going on a walk or simply standing in the sun.

“I also encourage people to take days off,” Acosta-Reyes said. “There are people who want to be there every day. I love that they want to be here! But they need to go do something else to prevent burnout.”

With so many big achievements behind them, the staff of PPSC still has something exciting to look forward to—they are planning to move into a brand-new public safety building at the end of the year. It will have a second story and plenty of windows for natural light. There will be new consoles for the Emergency Dispatchers, and a seat set aside that will hopefully be filled with an emergency communication nurse to help handle low-acuity medical calls.

The Public Safety Communications Center is very proud of their accomplishment and thankful for all the support they have received from their first responders.