Monday, May 4, 2009

David Garofalo and the Denise Amber Lee Foundation

I love this young man as a son. I mentioned Mike Rossi in yesterday's post. I didn't mention David Garofalo.

I started to several times but I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know where to start. If it wasn't for David, we would NEVER have even met Dr Clawson. David set up the entire meeting. And he's so humble about it all. I can't tell you all that he has done for our foundation in a single blog post.

What he did today speaks volumes as to the support he's given us. He loves Nate as a brother. He calls me mom. (He sadly lost his mom not too long ago). This is what he wrote to Florida state representative Bill Galvano today after learning that the bill for mandatory 9-1-1 dispatch training died on the floor.

I hesitate to even share it because it's worded so strongly. But! It's how we feel. It's as if the entire country is listening to us but the state of Florida refuses to step up! Even this bill was flawed.

We're not going to shut up. We're not going to go away.

But ya know? This doesn't even matter because what we're fighting for is a national issue and not just a Florida issue.

I find it sad that Florida won't lead the way on this especially after all the recent tragedies. Florida should be at the forefront!

Bless you, David. Your mom would be so proud of you!

Here it is:

Mr Galvano

What happened to this bill? Can you please tell me that you still supportit? If not, Why? I thought for sure you were going to be able to make this move.

This is very disheartening. The foundation including Denise's Widowed Husband, Father and Mother In Law have been traveling around the country being invited to Conference after Conference and we cant even get support in our own state.

I didnt believe that APCO's lobbying team was that strong, especially if the lawmakers knew what they were really after. They would like to see dispatchers classified as "High Risk" employees, just like Firefighters and Police. And they plan on riding this emotional wave of 911 Mishaps to get it done.

I have attached an article that when it originally came out, I called Nathan Lee and he started to weep on the phone to me. He for one of the first times since I met him was able to feel that Denise had not died in vain and that people were really listening. He was especially admirable that you supported it, because he was very clear that you had the ability
to make things move and shake.

I hope that is still the case.

You are a good man Mr Galvano and I hope that this was just an oversight.

David Garofalo
Director of Public Policy
Denise Amber Lee Foundation

Prompted by this article:

Bill aims to raise bar for 911
After Herald-Tribune series, a push for uniform, mandatory training
By Zac Anderson

Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 11:27 p.m.
For the first time, Florida's 911 operators would receive uniform,
mandatory training and would have to be state certified before taking emergency calls if legislation being drafted by several Florida lawmakers is introduced and approved this year.

The lawmakers announced their plans days after the Herald-Tribune published the results of a six-month investigation into failures of the 911 system statewide.

The newspaper found that hundreds of 911 errors threaten lives every year. In some cases, call takers send help to the wrong address, fall asleep on the job or simply forget to send help at all.

Despite repeated errors, Florida lags far behind most other states in training and oversight because state officials have taken on virtually no regulation of the state's more than 250 call centers.

Each 911 center sets its own training standards, a practice that means some call takers train for months while others are directing emergency response just days after being hired.

The bill being written by state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, would change that, making a voluntary 911 training program mandatory and requiring state certification for all 911 employees.

"We need mandatory rules," Roberson said. "Everybody should have the same standard."

Roberson has won support from several key legislators, including Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who agreed last week to file a companion bill in the Senate.

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, one of the three most powerful House members and a must-have vote for any legislation, said Wednesday he supports the bill because citizens need confidence in the 911 system.

"In general I'm not a big proponent of mandates. But this is one, in my opinion, that will ultimately save lives," Galvano said.

Galvano said he was prepared to take on the Florida Police Chief's Association and the Florida Sheriff's Association, which have lobbied against mandatory 911 training standards because of concerns about the cost. It is unclear how much the new requirements would cost.

"I will say to them that we have an obligation to do everything we can to make sure this isn't an unfunded mandate, Galvano said. "But they have to realize what a high priority this is."

Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chief's Association, declined to comment on the 911 bill until it is filed.

Roberson's bill would not address all of the challenges facing Florida's 911 centers.

The Herald-Tribune investigation found that beyond lax training requirements, most 911 centers do a poor job of tracking and investigating errors. In addition, error-prone 911 employees can rack up mistake after mistake and keep their jobs. Some 911 operators were allowed to botch a dozen or more calls before being fired.

Pay remains low, and stress and absenteeism high. As a result, many 911 centers are plagued by high turnover. Some lose 75 percent of new hires with a year, ensuring a steady stream of inexperienced call takers to direct the state's emergency responders.

But if the bill becomes law, Florida's training standards would go from among the weakest in the nation to among the strongest. All 911 employees would be required to complete a 208-hour basic training course before receiving a state certification to work as a 911 call taker. Agencies that already offer such training could apply to have their program certified as state-approved. Dispatchers with at least five years of experience would automatically qualify for certification.

Certification would mean that every 911 worker has a basic level of training. In addition, the state could revoke a 911 worker's certification, although currently it is not clear whether that would end a dispatcher's career or what criteria would be used to revoke certifications.

The state's 911 centers would likely have a few years to get everyone certified, Roberson said. He said he will also look for money to help local governments pay for the additional training.

Southwest Florida lawmakers began contemplating more state oversight of 911 centers a year ago, after confusion and errors made at the Charlotte County 911 center cost law enforcement a crucial opportunity to save the life of a 21-year-old North Port woman.

That woman, Denise Amber Lee, was kidnapped from her home, raped and buried in a shallow grave. When a woman saw Lee struggling with her kidnapper, she called 911, but no police officers were sent to check on the report and Lee was killed a short time later.

When the 911 mistakes were revealed, lawmakers pushed through a bill calling for voluntary training for 911 employees. But with no funding and no requirements, experts say, the bill did not lead to improved standards.

Denise Lee's widow, Nate Lee, said this week that making training standards mandatory is a first step.

"I'm excited about this training, I'll be up in Tallahassee lobbying for it," Nate Lee said. But "the whole 911 system needs another look. The state of Florida deserves better."

Roberson said he has been contemplating mandatory requirements for some time and the Herald-Tribune investigation cemented his decision.

"Public safety has to be a priority," Roberson said. "If firefighters need state training, and police officers, so should 911 operators."