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Posted on Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti fire departments explore creating 'functional district' to improve service

By Tom Perkins


Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco supports a larger "functional district" to cover Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Tom Perkins | For

When a house at 1208 Washtenaw Avenue near the Eastern Michigan University campus in Ypsilanti burned recently, a cell phone call to report the fire was routed to the Ann Arbor Fire Department. 

That department dispatched trucks to the same address on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor.

By the time the Ann Arbor department discovered the home was in Ypsilanti and alerted the Ypsilanti Fire Department, the house was destroyed.

Situations like that highlight how boundaries between the two jurisdictions have complicated firefighting efforts. But fire officials say they hope such situations could be avoided under their plan for a “functional district” to cover both cities.

Under the plan, all fire calls would be routed to a central dispatch center, and dispatchers would send the closest trucks to the scene.

“If we had a functional district, the closest engine would have responded," Ypsilanti Fire Chief Jon Ichesco said. "We lost that house, and we wouldn’t have.”

Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti’s fire departments are close to an agreement on creating a "functional district" that would allow them to manage operating procedures together while maintaining their own identities.

It's an idea that's been explored for at least two years, but one that's gaining momentum as both departments cut their ranks and look for ways to save money. Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are both struggling with budget deficits in the millions, and public safety cuts are on the table in both cities.

In Ann Arbor, a plan to lay off 14 firefighters was recently postponed for at least six months when the firefighters union agreed to a new contract with 4 percent in wage and pension concessions. In Ypsilanti, the city manager recently presented a plan to cut six positions from the 18-member fire department.

Officials from both fire departments say an agreement is nearly ready, and they're hoping to bring it before their respective city councils sometime in the next several months. It's not clear yet whether neighboring townships will opt in, expanding the district beyond the two cities.

Officials say safety and efficiency could be improved in such an arrangement and are the motivating factors for pushing forward, despite some opposition.

“It’s all about firefighter safety,” Ichesco said. “We’re going to have fewer and fewer people because of cutbacks.”

Thumbnail image for fire_truck.jpg

Ann Arbor firefighters return to the station last week after voting on a new contract that contains concessions. Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski agreed.

“It’s about more efficient service to the community, and it also balances in with firefighter safety,” he said.

While personnel cuts increase the need for collaboration between the two departments, those proposed reductions also jeopardize and complicate efforts to come to an agreement.

“It definitely makes things harder,” Ichesco said of the looming cuts. “We have to have a baseline of people so we have an understanding of what we’re doing. It’s fragile, and people could become scared and react negatively to this or they could say, ‘We’re all in trouble, and we need to pull our resources.’”

Dziubinski also said the instability is cause for concern.

“We’re a department that’s on edgy ground right now,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to provide them with what we stated in the original agreement if there are cuts, so we need to see how everyone’s city budgets shape up for the next fiscal year.”

The idea for a larger fire district currently only includes Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but Ichesco said it could be expanded to bring in Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township, Superior Township and Ann Arbor Township if those jurisdictions are interested.

But some of the townships appear hesitant because they use an "automatic mutual aid" system, which guarantees assistance from neighboring townships. Under automatic mutual aid pacts, firefighters from more than one department are automatically dispatched to the scene on certain calls, such as reported structure fires.

Fire departments also can request mutual aid after arriving at a scene, a practice that officials say has become more commonplace in the last few years as the fire departments have shrunk.

Ichesco said some smaller departments have reservations about joining a larger fire district because they don’t want to regularly make trips into the cities when far fewer fires occur in the townships, creating an inequitable arrangement.

Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor fire officials say 2009 mutual aid responses between jurisdictions show a larger district wouldn't lead to smaller departments subsidizing larger ones.

In 2009:

  • Superior Township provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti once more than it received it.
  • Ypsilanti provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti Township 15 times more than it received it.
  • Ann Arbor provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti two more times than it received it.

Ann Arbor Township Fire Chief Rick Ericson remains skeptical.

“My concern is we as a township cannot afford to subsidize other fire departments,” he said. “They need to evaluate their operation from the top down, and, in my opinion, there have been mistakes made over there in both administrations and with the firefighters. They need to go back and find their errors and repair them.”

Pittsfield Township Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger was more open to the idea, but said he didn’t want to speak on the matter too much until the next meeting between the chiefs.

“We’re going to wait and see how things pan out,” he said. “If there are opportunities we deem good for our communities and neighboring communities, then we want to look at them.”

Dziubinski said the stations that would most benefit in Ann Arbor are Stations 4 and 5, which are in the northeast corner of the city and far away from the other three Ann Arbor stations.

Neighboring Ann Arbor Township could be called to assist Station 4 or 5 on calls, but those stations also would respond to township emergencies, Dziubinski said. Ann Arbor's stations are closer than those in Northfield Township, Green Oak Township and Chelsea, which currently send aid to Ann Arbor Township.

“They’re out there by themselves trying to function, and it takes a long time for the others to get there,” Dziubinski said. “The whole goal is to be able to send the closest unit.”

Officials also point out sending closer units means the departments can meet firefighter safety regulations more quickly, especially the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's “two in, two out” rule. That regulation requires four firefighters on the scene before any can enter a burning building.

“Why do we need a chief in every town and every town to have their own gear?” Ichesco said. “The whole idea is to get people there as quick as possible. If you were dying, you wouldn’t care what patch or what truck is coming to rescue you.”

Once a unit is on the scene, the highest ranking officer in the first arriving unit would be the commander. From there, the command structure would work nearly the same as it does now.


Ypsilanti fire officials say equipment consolidation could be another advantage of a "functional district" for fire departments.

Tom Perkins | For

Ichesco and Dziubinski see another potential advantage in consolidating equipment each department must own. As separate entities, each department needs one of each type of truck, even it’s only used once or twice a year. That same truck may be one another department uses regularly.

Instead of a department purchasing a $500,000 truck it only uses once a year, the truck used regularly by a neighboring department could be sent when needed.

“It's standardization,” Ichesco said. “When we buy trucks, we buy the proper trucks for the proper area. Our purchasing power goes up.” 

Union support to the plan remains a hurdle. Ypsilanti firefighter Ken Hobbs, the union president, said firefighters were on board at the effort’s outset, but that support has died as they've been excluded from many of the recent talks and negotiations.

Hobbs said the unions are no longer welcome at the meetings to discuss forming a functional district, and he was concerned about statements Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber made at last Monday’s budget meeting.

Hobbs said the original document had a clause that precluded further layoffs, but that has since disappeared from the dialogue and documents. He said he now believes the city councils see the district as an opportunity to lay off firefighters because other departments would provide backup.

“They are spinning it how they want,” he said. “They see the functional district as a way to supplement our manpower and lay people off.”

Dziubinski said he recognizes the potential stumbling blocks and wants to work through them as quickly as possible.

“The unions want protective language, and so do the chiefs, and we want to make sure one department wouldn’t be supplementing fire coverage for the other,” he said. “I think the local governments have to be aware of that.”

Schreiber said he believes the nature of firefighting is changing, especially as improvements in fire prevention lead to fewer fire emergencies and more medical runs.

He views the prospect of a functional district as a step in the right direction toward an eventual regional fire authority. But he also said he wants to see the current agreement before committing his support.

“I’ve said numerous times the functional district is a good idea, and I think everyone on council feels the same,” he said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Wed, Jan 20, 2010 : 11:34 p.m.

Eric your mistaken when you say Ann Arbor is to far away to send help to Ypsilanti for a structure fire. When a fire breaks out and a dept needs help the words to far away dont come to mind. Do you remember the Dexter fire that taxed the entire county? Firefighters go where they are needed PERIOD!! You also speak to Ann Arbor possibly closing stations, if that happens dont you think having help from there neighbors will be essential? Everyone wants to preach safety well safety can come in more than one form. If your dept does not have the manpower to safely do the job then they need to cooperate with the other depts. Reciprocity comes to mind here! Im no fire expert but it sure does seem like Mutual Aid, Automatic Aid, and Functional district response all require depts to help each other, and since the county has been using MA, and AA for years whats it gonna hurt to go to a functional district response. This way the closets trucks respond on the initial alarm and eleviate any delays.As a citizen of the county I certainly want the closets trucks coming to help me if I have a fire.


Wed, Jan 20, 2010 : 11:01 p.m.

To Chief Erickson, you claim to be worried about subsidizing other depts with township equipment and manpower. You should ask yourself what your bringing to the table when called for help. ( NOT MUCH) You also speak about Ann Arbor Twp, and Superior Twp being well managed to the point of giving back money, well thats easy to do when you only have 2 or 3 full time firefighters on duty each day. Talk about needing to be subsidized!! Both you and Superior Twp should be strong advocates for a functional district fire service, if for no other reason than the safety of your staff.


Wed, Jan 20, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

In the article Ichesco says, "smaller departments have reservations about joining a larger fire district because they dont want to regularly make trips into the cities when far fewer fires occur in the townships". He also gives statistics about mutual aid runs and says that, "Ypsilanti provided mutual aid to Ypsilanti Township 15 times more than it received it." Lets start with the Townships having fewer fires. I believe that Ypsilanti Township has more working structure fires than anyone else in Washtenaw County. I'd like to see the stats on this from other departments. Did Ichesco mean to say that Ypsi FD provided mutual aid at a 15 to 1 exchange with Ypsilanti Township or that YFD responded 15 more times to YTFD? Either way, the numbers do not jive with Ypsilanti Townships numbers. Per the Fire Department records, YFD responded to Ypsilanti Township 19 times and received help 12 times in 2009.

Charles Wright

Tue, Jan 19, 2010 : 2:38 a.m.

actually, Ypsilanti is east of Ann Arbor, so most likely, the YFD would have been the one to arrive on scene.


Mon, Jan 18, 2010 : 2:55 p.m.

This is the opposite direction that we took with police services. Where we effectively broke up the sherrif's department. I wish we could all move in one direction.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 9:57 p.m.

BlazinBill, The county doesn't assign street addresses; DTE does. (Really!) I have the sad misfortune of living in a residence that "shares" an address with another building (an apartment complex) down the street from me. We are distinguished only by a north-south designation. Unfortunately for me, the Washtenaw County Road Commission refuses to indicate on the street signs that the road is divided North/South. As a result, I have received multiple semi-truck deliveries, a commercial air conditioning unit, numerous UPS deliveries, dozens of unordered pizzas, flower deliveries, job applicants and resumes, prospective tenants, a process server and police officers from two different law enforcement agencies (one pair at 6:00 AM) - all meant for other location. I have also lost deliveries intended for my home thanks to misdirected drivers who encountered the other location first. Fortunately, the fire station for our area is very close to my home, so I have no doubt the fire department would find me if I called for help, but I have seen HVA stream right past my home (presumably on the way to the "other" location) only to swing a quick U-turn to assist at an accident at my next door neighbor's home. The ultimate "fault" of dual addressing lies with DTE, which should (but does not) have a policy of assigning an address only once along a road that crosses community borders.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

Getting to the point where there is a "Functional District" should be the priority. Lay the plan out. Let the Fire Fighters in, let the unions in and let everyone be involved in the decision. A mutual aid pact is one thing, however Ypsilanti relying on the City of Ann Arbor Fire Department is not efficient at all. If YFD arrives on a fully involved structure fire and requests M/A, they are going to either get YTFD or Superior depending on the size of the structure(whether or not they need ladders or just manpower). Ann Arbor will also send a battalion and an engine. How far is Ann Arbor from Ypsilanti? That's too far to be responding on a structure fire. So how they see this as "efficient" is beyond me. The City of Ypsilanti needs to just annex itself to the Township. Let the Township Fire take over the fire department responsibilities. YTFD has 3 stations and could easily use YFD's main station and still provide fire services. YFD needs to think about the now, plan for the future but the now is what needs to be discussed. They have 18 firefighters and are going down to 12. This is not enough, no matter what the Chief says this is not enough. If Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Superior and Ann Arbor Township want to merge together as a functional fire district that would be awesome, but as Chief Ericson has said, there is much to be discussed and it needs to start at the top and work its way down. Fire Fighter safety is no doubt the #1 concern. Could this functional fire district work out? Sure it could, but only after years of debate and planning. What about now? Ann Arbor has protected the jobs of Fire Fighters for 6 months, what about after that? Then they will talk about closing 2 stations and getting rid of those fire fighters again and then only 3 stations to cover the entire city of Ann Arbor??? At that point AAFD will not be able to provide M/A to the City of Ypsilanti. So the question that needs answering is what about right now? The City of Ypsilanti needs to sign an agreement with the Charter Township of Ypsilanti. There is no other way around this. The City and the Township need to work together into the night if they have to, but need to come up with a pact that will work. YTFD already provides M/A to the city as well as Superior. The City is INSIDE the township and it only makes sense to work with the township. Again, the township consist of 35 square miles and the Township no doubt could help the YFD and help provide a functional fire service for Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. As far as cell phones. No matter how advanced your E911 system is it cannot route every cell phone the same way. It all depends on location. Where ever you are you might get AAPD, or WCSD or YPD....In our county we have PSAPS(Pubic Safety Answering Points) This is where your 911 call goes to depending on where you are at in the county. Those PSAPS are as follows : WCSD(Sheriff Department) AAPD(Ann Arbor Police Department) YPD(Ypsilanti Police Department) PTPD(Pittsfield Township Police Department) SPD(Saline Police Department) CPD(Chelsea Police Department) So again, depending on where you are is where your 911 call is routed to, and it usually is only a matter of seconds. In regards to the 1208 Washtenaw, it's the dispatchers mistake for not critiquing the call per protocol. You should ALWAYS ask what city are you in, and if the caller does not know then ask for cross streets....GET THE RIGHT INFORMATION! Eric


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 6:46 p.m.

Once again those with no real facts decide that the heart of the article is not worth discussing, but would rather talk about addresses... grrr. This idea that the whole area should have one common fire department/district is what the chiefs and city admin want in order to cut firefighter staffing. Maybe these chiefs should spend their time researching address issues and leave the firefighter conversations to those that actually fight fire.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 6:07 p.m.

I would like to hear the 911 call or calls. Is possibly working on a FOIA request in that regard? I realize the house fire in question is NOT the point of the article.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 5:41 p.m.

Snapshot....maybe you should get some facts before you start spouting off. As a firefighter, is it my job to know every single street and address in the entire county? We don't assign street addresses to commercial or residential property....the county does and we don't make up the the street names...the county does. It would be impossible for any fire department to keep track of every address and street in the entire county. It's hard enough to get it right in our own jurisdictions, especially when people refuse to put a visible (from a firetruck, at 3:00 am) address in a uniform place, at the front side of the building....and I mean visible from the firetruck, not visible standing on the front porch.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 5:19 p.m.

I'm appalled that such an error could occur. After so much rhetoric about firefighters concern for the public safety. Is it a new concept for the firefighters and dispatchers that duplicate addresses exist in nearby cities? All those qualified union members(read, it's not my job) on the "job" for so many years and not one of them had the expertise and foresight to prevent such negligence through any of those "communication" channels?


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 5:05 p.m.

What does a wrong address have to do with the number of personnel and location of fire trucks??? It's irrelevent!! No matter how you draw up the lines for districts, if the location is 8 miles away, it will get a different response. Now that almost every department in this article is dispatched from one central dispatch, the dispatch center is even more likely to send everyone to one location. Consolidation sounds great... lets start with 1 chief, 1 fire marshall, 1 county admin, 1 secretary, 1 payroll processor, 1 ambulance service (already got it) 1 central dispatch, and equally staffed fire rigs spread out to appropriate response areas based on call volume and population density. To ALL the area admin that seem to have big mouths with no substance... telling your citizens that the best you can offer is a pretty office building and the hope that your next door neighbors aren't already on a fire call when you need them is a stupid idea!! Stop taking police staffing issues to the polls and changing my fire service without public votes!!


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 4:15 p.m.

Did this incident happen before or after AAFD dispatch was turned over to HVA (for a substantial fee)?? It is my understanding that if a person in Ann Arbor were to call 911 and say "My office building is on fire!!" Ann arbor dispatch (located in same building as AAFD) would transfer the 911 call to HVA. When HVA dispatchers answered the call, they would ask, "What is the address of your building?", the caller would then say "I'm on the third floor of Ann Arbor City hall" (the older paid for one!!). HVA dispatchers would then "alert" AAFD (less than 100 yards from City Hall, and in the same building as AAPD dispatch) of the fire across the street. Doesn't make alot of sense to me, and HVA gets $17 or $18 for each AAFD call they dispatch (on top of the start up money they received).

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 3:49 p.m.

YpsiLivn, I see your points with respect your 911 cell phone experience... "It doesn't surprise me a bit that wrong or incomplete information was relayed under the circumstances described in the story." But it raises another question in my mind, was there only one call to 911 for a house fire on Washtenaw Ave in Ypsilanti? The article implyes that it took a fire truck from Ann Arbor to actually show up at the non-burning address before anyone figured out it was the right address, wrong city. Maybe there was only one call made, but it seems unusual to me on such a busy street.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 2:51 p.m.

Craig, I recently had occasion to call 911 from my cell phone to report a traffic accident. I was out on the street and have to say that I had a hard time hearing the dispatcher's questions because the street noise was substantial. To the dispatcher's credit, she stuck with me and asked a number of questions about the severity of the accident, so she could dispatch only the required services (police-only, no EMS, fire or towing.) Cell phone calls break up, fade, and drop out a lot. It doesn't surprise me a bit that wrong or incomplete information was relayed under the circumstances described in the story. I've often thought that Washtenaw County would benefit from the "fire district" approach to delivering fire-fighting services. Everyone would receive better overall coverage and enjoy better use of our limited resources.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 2:09 p.m.

First of all,to say that if you had a "functional district" the house wouldn't have been lost is pure speculation. The house may have been too far gone for any dept to have "saved". The townships are not reluctant because they already have automatic aid agreements, there are no automatic mutual aid agreements, only requested mutual aid which have worked for a century. They are reluctant because it allows the cuts that have been over the last years to be solidified by the politicians who can claim that services haven't been reduced, just changed how they're delivered. This is a fundamental flaw in the system. There is no synergy in combining depts that are already short-staffed. It just taxes each depts capabilities on a regular basis. The existing mutual-aid process allocates resources as they become available. If Ypsi City now has only 4 to offer for an automatic response and Ypsi Township has 10, than it most certainly is a case of subsidizing, thus rewarding them for cutting personnel over the years. Why do we need a chief in every town? I couldn't agree more. Which of the chiefs is going to volunteer to step down in the name of efficiency. Why is this consolidation always for the fire service and not for the politicians or the police. What does the mayor of Ypsi know about the changing nature of fires. They are relatively the same as they've been for hundreds of years, except they burn hotter,faster and with more toxins and quicker structural collapses. How about we just have one mayor for the county, thats a good place to start.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 10:59 a.m.

I thought calls to 911 from cell phones included location information, either from a GPS system on the cell phone or triangulation based on nearby cell towers. At the very least I'd think that the 911 dispatcher, after entering in the reported address, would see if the cell phone was near that location on his/her computer. If not the computer would prompt a further question -- is the caller at the scene now? In a consolidated district, I would guess that when an address is entered into the comptuer by the 911 dispatcher (e.g., 1208 Washtenaw Ave.) it would be flagged as designating multiple locations and through a combination of caller location information and maybe asking the caller if they're near a specific cross street, the right location could be identified. Years ago I called 911 to report an issue near the intersection of Plymouth Rd. and Broadway St. The dispatcher somehow realized that those streets intersect twice and asked me for further information. I don't know if the dispatcher's computer pointed out the two intersections or whether it's something the dispatcher knew (perhaps due to training). I was impressed.


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

What happened to Enhanced 911 which was supposed to be in place by 2005? "The FCC also requires wireless telephone carriers to provide 9-1-1 and E9-1-1 capability, where a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) requests it. Once it is implemented fully, wireless E9-1-1 will provide an accurate location for 9-1-1 calls from wireless phones." "the FCC requires wireless carriers, within six months of a valid request by a PSAP, to begin providing information that is more precise to PSAPs, specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must meet FCC accuracy standards, generally to within 50 to 300 meters, depending on the type of technology used. The deployment of E9-1-1 requires the development of new technologies and upgrades to local 9-1-1 PSAPs, as well as coordination among public safety agencies, wireless carriers, technology vendors, equipment manufacturers, and local wireline carriers."


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 10:10 a.m.

There is a simple and easy solution to these geographical address and street issues. Adopt a countywide address numbering system; NOW! For example, Huron River Dr runs through seven different municipalites in Washtenaw county from Dexter/Webster Twp all the way to the Wayne county line in Ypsilanti Twp. (And it continues on into Wayne county from there as well.) Along this stretch addresses repeat numerous times based on what zip code the property address falls in. 911 calls are one thing, when citizens call on a 7-digit line it's another. And honestly, when people call 911 and are excited, nervous and usually borderline hysterical; they will erroneously reply yes or no to critical questions like "Are you in Ann Arbor? Are you in Ypsilanti city or Ypsilanti Twp?" Callers are often fixated on the emergency at hand and not even listening to the questions posed. And most callers are not aware of the municipality they have landed in regardless even what county they are in. A lot of residents don't even realize they live in Pittsfield Twp and not Ann Arbor city. And making callers jump through these hoops during emergencies is typically unnecessary when some simple changes can be enacted to ensure an accurate and effiecient response. The question is, are the powers that be prepared to actually work for the money we pay them?


Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 9:25 a.m.

Ann Arbor Township Fire Chief Rick Ericson remains skeptical. My concern is we as a township cannot afford to subsidize other fire departments, he said. They need to evaluate their operation from the top down, and, in my opinion, there have been mistakes made over there in both administrations and with the firefighters. They need to go back and find their errors and repair them. A Chief who has lead an efficient, motivated and well-fuctioning department for twenty years speaks. Maybe we should listen. Superior Township Fire has also been well-run and just this year CUT the fire millage to give back because they had PLANNED for the future. A2 and Ypsi (and Pittsfield?) have assumed that the money would keep rolling in and the deep pockets had no bottom. Now their staff see this as a way to keep themselves on fat salaries and pensions at the expense of lower paid Township personnel. The Townships shouldn't be the ones to bail them out. They should be the model for the cities to follow. As for the 911 call to the wrong city....cell phones are directed to a tower and that to the TOWERS 911 dispatch. I will bet that if checks the call went to county dispatch who transfered it to A2 disptch without checking what city the caller was in. (That could be a story!) They are already creating a regional dispatch without including the Unions (read people who kow how the job is done.) That fire just the first tragedy to be created by cutting essential services for discretionary items (Sculptures, Water Street, etc.) Wake up. Vote them out. Or move to one of the Townships like Roger Fraser and Chief Jones.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jan 17, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

From the opening paragraph: "When a house at 1208 Washtenaw Avenue near the Eastern Michigan University campus in Ypsilanti burned recently, a cell phone call to report the fire was routed to the Ann Arbor Fire Department. That department dispatched trucks to the same address on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor. By the time the Ann Arbor department discovered the home was in Ypsilanti and alerted the Ypsilanti Fire Department, the house was destroyed." I realize this story is about consolidation of services between jurisdictions, but I wonder how a cell phone 911 call gets routed, and perhaps more importantly how a 911 operator doesn't ask what city the caller is calling from.