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Ask a Firefighter: Who decides how much equipment to dispatch?

(A Lake Oswego firefighter answers readers’ questions on the last Thursday of every month in this space. To submit a question, call staff reporter Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

When I call 911, how do you determine which equipment to send?

ZOUTENDIJKFire departments no longer respond just to fires. Today’s calls for help have evolved to include requests for services that range from assisting a person off the floor and medical emergencies to vehicle accidents, fires and everything in between.

Because the fire department has to run efficiently and in a cost-effective way, we cannot afford to hire specialized people for each type of emergency. That’s why all Lake Oswego firefighters are certified as Emergency Medical Technicians and the majority maintain certification as paramedics, able to provide the highest levels of emergency life support.

When you call 911, our dispatch center uses a screening software to determine the type of response required. The software is programmed with predetermined scenarios and will recommend the units needed, based on the type of call and which units are closest.

For medical emergencies, for example, the dispatch center uses Medical Emergency Dispatching to determine the details of the emergency and recommend who and what units respond. In the case of a cardiac arrest victim, the system will recommend sending several units from the fire department, an ambulance and officers from the police department.

In every case, the number of people and the amount of equipment dispatched is part of our effort to strive for the best outcome in any given emergency and is part of our team approach with the Lake Oswego 911 center and AMR, the ambulance provider for the Lake Oswego Police Department.

— Fire Marshal Gert Zoutendijk