San Jose Firefighters Concerned Over Lack of Bilingual Emergency Dispatchers

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    The San Jose Fire Department is working to address concerns over a lack of bilingual dispatchers. Damian Trujillo reports.

    The San Jose Fire Department is working to address concerns over a lack of bilingual dispatchers.

    Fire department dispatchers who receive a 911 call from a person who does not speak English rely on making a three-way call between themselves, the caller and a translation service based in Monterey.

    The company, Language Line, provides translation services for emergency responders nationwide. But in a city as diverse as San Jose, firefighters said that is not good enough.

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    "To say that a city of a million people, we don't have bilingual dispatchers, I think we can do better," SJFD Battalion Chief Jose Guerrero said.

    Guerrero, who also is a member of the the Latino firefighters group, Los Bombers, said he is frustrated when his crews respond to emergency calls and have to wait to get the symptoms of the awaiting patient or victim.

    "Well definitely there's a frustration level because you can only treat what you see," he said. "A lower type of service."

    Deputy Chief Robert Sapien said the department has seen no significant issues with the translation service. But Sapien said he agrees with the concerns from worried firefighters.

    "We share the concern," he said. "We want to deliver service to the best ability we can."

    Sapien is now working to improve the department's bilingual program.

    "I think it's really time for a total program review and some evaluation and values checking to see how we want to provide our service," he said.

    Officials said 39 different languages were needed of the 14,000 emergency calls in 2012.