Regionalized Radio Dispatching Under Review By Fire Officials
Fire officials from the town’s five volunteer fire companies are reviewing a controversial proposal to move the town’s radio dispatching for 911, police, fire, and ambulance calls from the Newtown Emergency Communications Center (NECC) at Town Hall South to the Northwest Connecticut Public Safety Communication Center, Inc, in Prospect.
Town Director of Emergency Communications Maureen Will, who heads the NECC, and the two members of a town study panel that is researching possibly having Newtown emergency calls dispatched from the Prospect center, attended an April 28 Board of Fire Commissioners meeting. Those ad hoc panel members are Jeffrey Capeci and Neil Chaudhary.
Six Newtown officials received a private tour of the private, nonprofit Prospect dispatching center on April 29 to help them learn about dispatching at the facility at 28 Cheshire Road (Route 68). That building lies about 25 miles from Town Hall South.
The proposal for the town to “regionalize” its dispatching in Prospect is expected to be publicly discussed again when the Police Commission meets at 7:30 pm Tuesday, May 6, at Town Hall South.
First Selectman Pat Llodra on April 30 said that she plans to attend the Police Commission session to discuss the dispatching issue, among other topics.
At an April 1 Police Commission session, commission members had raised concerns about the possible drawbacks of regionalized dispatching.
The Newtown Police Union, which represents all town police officers except the chief and captain, has said it strongly opposes moving dispatching to Prospect, charging that doing so would result in delays in dispatching emergency calls and consequent decreased quality of service.
The dispatchers at Prospect are not unionized. The NECC dispatchers are represented by a labor union.
Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico said April 30 that the Prospect center tour on April 29 allowed local officials to ask many questions about the proposal. In addition to Mr Mangiafico, those taking the tour were Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Captain Joe Rios, Lieutenant Christopher Vanghele, Mr Capeci, and Mr Chaudhary.
Fire Commission Discussion
Mr Capeci told the Board of Fire Commissioners on April 28, that although he is a former chairman of the Legislative Council and Mr Chaudhary is that panel’s current vice chairman, they are not affiliated with the Legislative Council in their work as the two-member town study panel on regionalization.
Mrs Llodra ultimately will make the decision on whether local emergency services radio dispatching should be regionalized, Mr Capeci said.
Research remains to be done on the cost implications of regionalization, as well the quality of service that would be provided in a regionalized dispatching system, he said.
After that research is complete, the study panel is expected to formulate recommendations on the topic.
“Regionalization is coming, whether we like it or not, in the state of Connecticut,” Ms Will told commission members.
“It’s frightening. It’s scary. It’s not an easy decision,” she said.
Ms Will said she would rather have the town join a regional dispatch center in Prospect now, rather than be eventually ordered by the state to have regionalized dispatching done elsewhere.
She assured the fire officials that the town would get good dispatching service at Prospect.
Lisa Goosman, a civilian Board of Fire Commissioners member, said that while at work she hears the emergency radio calls handled by the Prospect center.
Ms Goosman said that while the dispatchers at the Prospect center are “good,” there are times when they have difficulty handling calls.
Ms Will pointed out that most of the nine dispatchers who work at the NECC in Town Hall South do not live in Newtown.
Ms Will assured commission members that given sufficient time, knowledge of Newtown’s computer-assisted dispatching methods, and suitable training, the dispatchers at Prospect would provide Newtown with the same level of dispatching service that it now receives.
Ms Will acknowledged that there would be some “glitches” in moving local dispatching to Prospect.
Noting that she is a Newtown resident, Ms Will said that when she places a 911 call for help, she wants to be sure that the person taking that call is capable and confident.
Fire Commissioner Michael Burton of Sandy Hook asked how much money the town would save by changing to regionalized radio dispatching.
“It’s not about money,” Ms Will said.
Mr Capeci said that the level of potential cost savings is not yet clear.
Ms Goosman noted, “We’ve been [on] this route before,” referring to a past failed proposal to have Newtown’s dispatching done at a Danbury site.
“[Regionalization pressure] will not go away,” Ms Will responded.
“I have concerns … If it bombs, can we go back? … If it bombs, we have to be able to take it over,” Ms Goosman said of the need for Newtown to regain local dispatching duties if dispatching for Newtown done from Prospect should fail.
Fire Commission Chairman Rob Manna asked what effect winter storms might have on regionalized dispatching at Prospect.
Communications during winter storms can fail wherever dispatching facilities are located, Ms Will said.
A push to regionalize emergency dispatching in Connecticut stems from the state government’s desire to reduce the number of places where 911 calls are answered from the current 106 locations, Ms Will said.
Newtown Hook & Ladder Fire Chief Ray Corbo asked whether Newtown could become the hub of a regionalized emergency dispatching network in this area.
Fire Marshal and Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue Chief Bill Halstead asked whether the Prospect center might eventually move somewhat closer to Newtown.
Mr Manna said that local fire officials should tour the Prospect center to learn about the facility.
Newtown Underwater Search And Rescue (NUSAR) Chief Mike McCarthy said of regionalized dispatching for Newtown at Prospect, “It could be done. It could be done very well.”
Mr Manna asked whether a regionalization plan requires police, fire and ambulance to regionalize.
Ms Will said that all three services would need to regionalize.
Chief Halstead urged that fire officials contact the fire officials in other towns that are served by the Prospect center to learn whether they are satisfied with regionalized dispatching.
Fire and ambulance services have long had regionalized dispatching across the country, he noted.
“I think it’s something that that probably could work,” he said. But research on the matter needs to be done, he added.
The Prospect center dispatches about 20 emergency services units, most of which are fire and ambulance agencies. It dispatches one law enforcement agency — the Middlebury Police Department.
Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Mike Collins recently said, “We need a localized, personalized [dispatching] situation … I prefer the local [dispatching] approach to the regional …What we’ve got is working … It’s a lot easier if it’s local.”
Mr Collins added he has not reviewed the proposal to regionalize town dispatching in Prospect, but said he will be researching it.
If regionalization occurs, the town jobs that are now held by nine dispatchers would end. Those dispatchers, however, would be able to seek employment at the Prospect center. It is unclear how many former Newtown dispatchers would be hired in Prospect.
Attempts to reach the Newtown dispatchers’ union president for comment on the regionalization proposal were unsuccessful.