Last week, June 1, Halifax Selectmen held an energetic hearing on remote dispatching for the Police and Fire Departments from the dispatch center in Duxbury, which handles Police and Fire emergency calls for both Duxbury and Plympton, and wishes to expand.
According to Selectman Kim Roy, contracting out dispatching to Duxbury would represent significant savings, in the realm of $175,000, if the talks proceed for the 5-year contract. She also noted that the state is encouraging towns to regionalize with grants and that the end “product” would be the same or even better.
Plympton had a very smooth transition to regional dispatch, according to Selectman Tom Millias, who works as the Building Inspector in Plympton. “It has been outstandingly run well,” he said according to the Police and Fire Chiefs in that town.
Some residents were concerned about the police station “going dark” because the dispatcher is at times the only person at the station in the evening when officers are patrolling, although there are very few walk-in emergencies a year, according to Police Chief Edward Broderick, and even then a dispatcher “following the rules” cannot let someone into the station past the lobby until an officer arrives.
There are plans to build a “safe-room” at the station, where someone could lock themselves inside, communicate with a remote dispatcher, and take shelter in an emergency until an officer arrives, said Chief Broderick, in the rare event someone needs refuge.
Broderick noted that might be safer than the current situation, where the lobby door is unlocked.
Another concern expressed is that dispatchers at a regional center might not be familiar with roads or landmarks in Halifax. Yet, already two Halifax dispatchers have been hired by Duxbury and if Halifax joins, there is a possibility that they might hire others. Roy also noted that when Halifax hires a new dispatcher, they have to learn the streets, too.
“If there’s a place for obscure streets, it’s Plympton,” said Millias to much laughter, referencing the smooth transition Plympton had to dispatching from Duxbury’s center. “I have trouble finding streets in Plympton.”
Both Roy and Selectmen Chairman Troy Garron stated that the board was obligated to look at this proposal because taxpayers are demanding efficiencies, and selectmen serve at the will of the townspeople.
The high-tech facility located on Tremont Street, in South Duxbury, is able to not only take 911 calls and dispatch the appropriate personnel and assets, but monitor their status in real-time. Video feeds from the schools and other town surveillance cameras allow them to give very specific details about an emergency to first-responders. Cameras from Plympton will be coming online shortly, and Halifax is demanding them upfront in their negotiations, according to Duxbury officials.
Selectmen have made it clear many times that they have not made up their minds yet on the issue, and that this is not a “done-deal”. They say they are working with the departments, not “looking down on them” and imposing a change.
“There is no good reason to do this if it is not something that the Police Department and the Fire Department are comfortable with,” said Roy. “There is no way we would give you a service that would harm you or your family.”