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Milwaukee-area fire departments use same 911 software that caused caused delay in deadly blaze in Waukesha

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 19:32:27-05

WAUKESHA, Wisc. — Waukesha police are blaming a software malfunction for a delayed response to a house fire that left two people dead.

The software was suppose to automatically send firefights to the blaze, but instead there was at least a five minute delay.

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The gutted residence after it caught fire in Waukesha Tuesday morning.

The Waukesha Police Department says the 911 call came in around 1:25 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8. Police officers were sent, but not firefighters. It took five minutes before 911 dispatchers sent firefighters and another five minutes before they arrived on the scene.

Waukesha uses the ProPhoenix software and the police department says it was that system that experienced a glitch.

The ProPhoenix software is so popular in the area, the Wauwatosa Police Department has a testimonial on ProPhoenix’s website endorsing the system saying:

“The CAD system is really easy to use….. The system’s search function operates in the natural way that a user would expect.”

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The gutted residence after it caught fire in Waukesha Tuesday morning.

According to the City of Milwaukee Fire Department every fire municipality, except the city, uses that software ProPhoenix, including North Shore Fire Department.

“There is a very small margin of error allowed in emergency services so anytime there is a fail like this, we definitely have a concern,” said Battalion Chief Dan Tyk.

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Scene of the fire Tuesday morning.

However, more than a decade ago, the ProPhoenix was involved in a lawsuit with the town of Mentor, Ohio. The municipality sued for a full refund because it said there were “continuing and/or new material defects.” The town had purchased the software in 2009.

Two years earlier, in 2007 is when the City of Waukesha bought its software from ProPhoenix. However the fire department says in that time it has never experienced any problems until now.

A spokesperson for Wisconsin Mutual Aid Box Alarm System or MABAS, which provides aid and resources to fire departments, says these failures can happen to any software system.

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Testimonial on ProPhoenix website from Wauwatosa Police Department on their software.

“There's fire departments, all of this country to use this type of technology, whether it's ProPhoenix or somebody else’s,” said Peter O’Leary, spokesperson for Wisconsin MABAS. “I think as reliable as those systems are, we know they could fail.”

But how often there are failures within a 911 center itself isn’t known, according to April Heinze from the National Emergency Number Association.

“No one really tracks that because no one has put forth anything funding to do it,” said Heinze.

However, it is common enough though that fire departments, including North Shore dispatchers, are ready to switch back to the old way of sending out fire and EMS, which includes using a radio and pen and paper.

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Battallion Chief Dan Tyk from the North Shore Fire Department talks to reporter Rebecca Klopf.

“It is something we train on and have fail safes in place to be able to address as quickly as possible understanding that its likely going to take longer to manually take care of the process than if it was automated via the software,” said Tyk.

TMJ4 News contacted ProPhoenix about what happened in Waukesha and they stated it is under investigation and cannot comment at this time.

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