OPED: Why We Oppose Regionalization of Public Safety Dispatch


Manchester-by-the-Sea’s Public Safety Dispatchers are our community’s first, first responders. We serve a vital role in providing 24/7/365 emergency response and public safety to residents, visitors, and businesses alike. We dispatch calls not only for the Fire and Police Departments, but also for the Harbormaster, Animal Control, and after business hours the DPW. We are also the public face of the Police Department and are trained to assist any visitors that come to the police station for emergency and non-emergency situations.

We respond to issues big and small. On top of our regular duties responding to emergencies, we are called with questions about what is going on in town—parade and fireworks start times, power outages, parking issues, beach access, the list goes on. No matter what the issue, the Manchester-by-the-Sea dispatch team is trained and willing to assist the public.

The men and women who make up the full-time Public Safety Dispatch team are first and foremost concerned about the well-being of the residents we serve and the safety of the police, fire, and EMS personnel we work side-by-side with to keep our community safe. Our objections to regionalization have always been about putting the needs of the community we serve first. We do not believe that our community will achieve better services by joining an unproven and untested regional center with towns with which Manchester-by-the-Sea shares no borders. We perform services and take calls for residents that faceless outside dispatchers are simply not equipped to answer.

Regionalization has already been rejected by the town, most recently in 2015. At the time, MRI – an independent consultant also recommended against regionalization. Regionalization was wrong then and it is wrong now.

The town has wisely decided to invest in upgrades and improvements to the Public Safety Dispatch Operations Center to allow for faster and more accurate responses to calls coming into the center. The Police, Fire, and DPW departments have all undergone extensive upgrades to their radio systems and new dispatch consoles are scheduled to be installed to better handle dispatch calls. Manchester-by-the-Sea has a dispatch facility that would make any community proud and is in the process of making it even better.

As a basis for regionalization, the Fire Chief has submitted to the Board of Selectman a list of upgrades which we believe are ultimately unnecessary and costly for a town of our size. We do not need mobile data terminal units in all vehicles or a program that identifies the locations of fire hydrants. These programs may be appropriate for a larger town, but we do not need them – we already have the training and skills to do our jobs effectively. Similarly, the town does not need to have two dispatchers on duty at all times –historical call volumes will show that the current personnel structure works well for our public safety needs. Moreover, there are policies and procedures in place that allow us to increase staffing quickly and efficiently during times of crisis and need. This was the case during the major fire on University Lane in which we were able to get another dispatcher to assist very quickly and with no disruption to dispatch services.

The cost savings presented by the Fire Chief to the Board of Selectman shows an alleged operational savings, but fails to take into account the added cost of salaries and benefits for hiring new employees or diverting current duties to existing personnel to staff the Police Station lobby. State E911 grants, the town currently receives are dependent upon having an in-house dispatch unit. Grant funds can be applied to departmental upgrades, including those sought by the Fire Chief to improve operations. A move to a regional model would make the town ineligible for these grants, reducing and negatively impacting the Police Department’s operating budget.

The Fire Chief’s report also supposes an equipment savings by joining a regional center. There are significant maintenance and training costs for both the Fire and Police Departments associated with the “free” equipment. Equipment costs—radios, computers, software, and consoles— are currently shared across a number of different town departments—police, fire, schools, public works—and must be maintained and operational for all.

Most importantly, the supposed cost savings does not take into account the very strong likelihood the town will eventually be required to pay an annual fee for participating in the state-run regional center. At any time, the state can revoke promises made to its municipalities for “free” dispatch services. Once the town forfeits its Public Safety Access Point (PSAP), there is no turning back as it is very difficult to regain the access point to bring dispatching back in-house.

Knowing the town inside and out saves time and in an emergency, seconds can mean the difference between life and death. There is an assumption that there will be personnel dedicated to responding to calls from Manchester-by-the-Sea at the regional dispatch center at all times. That is just not the case. At a regional center, the dispatchers would be employees of the center who can be deployed any way the Center sees fit. Currently, both the Police and Fire Chief are able set the policies, procedures, and protocols for the public safety dispatchers without having to answer to state bureaucrats as well as chiefs and town managers from other communities. A decision to move to a regional model would also eliminate the jobs of three valued town employees who have made a career serving Manchester-by-the-Sea residents.

Our Public Safety Dispatchers know Manchester-by-the-Sea and are 100 percent dedicated to the residents, visitors, and public safety operations of Manchester-by-the-Sea.

AFSCME Local 687 Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Safety Dispatch Team

Katie Elwell, Lead Dispatcher, Chelsie Reilly, Overnight Dispatcher, Sean Mullins, Day Dispatcher, Patrice Rotondo, Executive Assistant for Public Safety

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