Seeing is believing, understanding and appreciating. That's what members of the Representative Town Meeting's Public Health and Safety gained Saturday during a tour of the town's Marine Police headquarters at South Benson Marina and a brief ride on Marine Unit 1, Fairfield's high-speed patrol boat.
Leading the tour was Police Chief Gary MacNamara, joined by Lt. Jim Perez, Marine Police Officers Grant Dalling and Jim Wiltsie, and Sgt. Bob Kalamaras, who supervises Fairfield Marine Police operations. Participating RTM members included Michael Herley, chairman of the RTM's Public Health and Safety Committee; Jennifer Hochberg, District 7; Gaylord Meyer, District 1; Jay Wolk, District 6, and Matt Ambrose, District 5. Police Commissioner Arthur Hersh was also on hand.
Herley said his committee reached out to police officials in its continuing effort to gain better understanding of all the town's first-responder operations. Prior to Saturday, the committee had toured the headquarters of both the Police and Fire departments, and reviewed the town's emergency-response plan. The goal is to help the RTM members make more informed decisions when making budget decisions.
"By building a relationship with town safety officials, we are in a better position to be liaisons when constituents call to question protocols and initiatives," said Healey. "We are better able to assist the public because of the knowledge base and relationships."
Herley said his committee has a legislative and budgetary role regarding the emergency services, while the Police and Fire commissions have direct authority over the respective departments.
Hersh said he believes it's important for RTM members to see what police and fire are doing in the community. "They are getting insights rather than a superficial view," he said. "The more we get the committee to interplay with the security of our community the better."
Hersh pointed to the recent case in which horseback riders in Idaho provided vital information to officials searching for a kidnapped teenager, which subsequently led to her rescue.
"We want our community to be vigilant in the same way," said Hersh, "to help police ensure security in the community."
MacNamara said it was important for the RTM committee to know how the Marine Police headquarters had evolved from "an old shed to a state-of-the-art structure that will take us through the next 20 years."
The office includes weather-tracking and surveillance equipment and Coast Guard communications, which enables it to function as an information hub during severe storms. The initial Marine office had at one time been a bait shack that was infested with squirrels and maggots. It evolved into form under the guidance of Dalling, who began a drive for donations of money, equipment and labor. The new 1,600-square-foot headquarters houses modern handicapped accessible restrooms, hurricane-proof features and complete self-sufficiency.
About $375,000 worth of materials and labor was donated by local contractors and businessmen, sparing the town a significant outlay for the facilities.
The RTM members were also briefed on Marine Unit 1, which was deployed two years ago for use in both shoreline rescues and general waterfront security.