Fire officials this week voiced concerns about the implications of a proposal to have the town’s radio dispatching for emergency 911, police, fire, and ambulance calls move about 25 miles from the Newtown Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street to the Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, Inc at Route 68 in Prospect.
Recently, Rob Manna of Newtown Hook & Ladder, who is chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, and Bill Halstead, who is the town fire marshal and the Sandy Hook fire chief, toured the Prospect center to learn about that organization.
Maureen Will, town director of emergency communications, has proposed that Newtown shift its dispatching to the Prospect center, which now handles calls for many regional fire companies and ambulance services, as well the Middlebury Police Department.
Town officials have been reviewing that dispatching proposal for the past few months. A two-member ad hoc panel that is studying the proposal is expected to submit a report on it with recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.
The cost implications of such a dispatching move are yet unclear.
At a June 23 Board of Fire Commissioners meeting, Mr Manna said that based on the recent tour, it appears that the Prospect center is “about at capacity,” based on the number of emergency calls it is handling.
If the Prospect center were to take on Newtown’s emergency calls, the center would need to expand, he said.
“There’s a lot of land between Newtown and [Prospect],” he added, noting that there is much terrain between the two places where communications lines could fail in the event of a storm.
Mr Halstead said of the Prospect center, “They’re a professional operation.”
Newtown’s number of emergency calls would add much call volume to the Prospect center’s workload, he said.
“I have a big concern about the phone lines,” he said, noting the distance between the two towns.
Mr Halstead suggested that if Newtown wants to “regionalize” its radio dispatching, it should consider having Newtown become the “hub” of regional network with surrounding towns participating in the network.
“We should look at Newtown being the hub… I think we’d be far ahead of the game by doing it here,” he said.
Mr Halstead stressed that there is no state mandate or time deadline requiring that municipalities enter into regional dispatching networks. “There’s no mandate,” he said.
Dave Jossick, who is Hawleyville’s representative on the Board of Fire Commissioners, observed that initially it appeared that by having its emergency calls dispatched from Prospect, Newtown would save money. But it now appears that Newtown would spend more money if its calls were dispatched from Prospect, he added.
Mr Halstead said that the Board of Selectmen would make the final decision on whether local dispatching would be shifted to Prospect.
Following the June 23 session, Mr Manna said that he would soon be sending a letter to First Selectman Pat Llodra explaining fire officials’ concerns about shifting local dispatching to Prospect.
Asked for comment on the fire officials’ views, Ms Will said June 25 that in the event of damaged telephone lines in storms, 911 calls are rerouted via other lines to ensure that the calls get through. Routine calls to emergency service agencies do not necessarily get such rerouting, she said.
To ensure the reliability of calls traveling to and from Newtown, the Prospect center would need to create suitable redundancy in an expanded communications network, she said.
Ms Will added that having Newtown’s calls handled at the Prospect center would provide a larger pool of dispatchers for emergency calls than is available locally.
Police Commission members have generally expressed skepticism that moving dispatching to Prospect would be beneficial.
The Newtown Police Union has said it opposes moving dispatching to Prospect, charging that it would damage the quality of dispatching.
The town dispatchers’ union similarly opposes the proposed change, noting that its nine members’ town jobs would end if the dispatching move is made. The private, nonprofit Prospect center is nonunionized.
Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Mike Collins has said that local dispatching works well, in questioning the need to move it to Prospect.
Scott DeVico, spokesman for the Office of Statewide Emergency Telecommunications (OSET), has said there is no state mandate for municipalities to shift their emergency dispatching to regional centers, such as Prospect. The state, however, does encourage municipalities to make such a shift for the sake of efficiency, he said.
The Prospect center currently handles dispatching for agencies including Beacon Hose Company No. 1 in Beacon Falls, Bethlehem Ambulance, Citizens Engine Company No. 2 in Seymour, Oxford Center Fire Company No. 1, Great Hill Hose Company in Seymour, Woodbury Fire Department, Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department, Bethel Volunteer Fire Department, Brookfield Fire Department, New Fairfield Fire Department, Stony Hill Volunteer Fire Department in Bethel, Thomaston Volunteer Ambulance, Wolcott Volunteer Ambulance, Middlebury Police Department, Seymour Ambulance Association, and Oxford Ambulance Association.