Fairfield, Westport to run joint dispatch center by 2020
FAIRFIELD — Fairfield’s emergency communications center for fire, medical and police services is conveniently located in the basement of the police department.
It also just happens that it’s in a flood zone. And since it dates back to 1990, equipment is nearing the end of its lifetime.
A plan to relocate to Sacred Heart University — in the former General Electric building — would see Fairfield and Westport combine to run a joint dispatch center, expected to be up and running by Jan. 1 of next year.
Fairfield Fire Department Chief Denis McCarthy described the effort as “good strategic sense” and a two-town force would help “people in the field get faster backup.”
“This is something we should have done a long time ago,” Westport Police Department Chief Foti Koskinas said. Westport currently has two dispatch centers: one at police headquarters for police and Emergency Medical Service calls and another at the fire department for fire related calls.
Fairfield Deputy Chief Donald Smith said savings would be in the long-term, particularly in the purchase and replacement of equipment.
“Instead of one municipality paying to upgrade their center, it’s now multiple municipalities splitting the cost to upgrade centers,” he said.
Towns with a population larger than 40,000 receive subsidies from the state toward dispatch centers; with a consolidated force, Westport would also benefit from these monies.
Smith noted while there may be potential for other municipalities to join forces with Westport and Fairfield, it would be limited to these two for the time being as it is “a pretty large project.”
Costs related to moving and equipment, according to Smith, would come in the $2 million to $2.5 million range, an amount the town bodies could bond.
The towns would pay the university a symbolic $1 for the space on a yearly basis as part of a partnership.
The decision to combine forces at Sacred Heart University is part of a yearlong process.
Back in March 2018, Fairfield and Westport split the cost of an $80,000 consultant study from Virginia-based Federal Engineering on how a combined center could be run.
Former Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara, now the executive director for public safety and government affairs at Sacred Heart University, said the university was prepared and anxious to form a partnership with the two towns.
“The General Electric campus had a worldwide dispatch center and they were able to monitor all their properties and communicate pretty effectively,” MacNamara said of the facilities’ previous owner. “ ... (The location) is secure and the state has a lot of guidelines for 911 centers and this space already meets a lot of those guidelines.”
He also noting the cost to the towns of being at SHU was less than if each town built their own dispatch center.
In addition to cost-savings, the combined dispatch center will improve response time, Koskinas said. Currently, if a serious call is made in the part of Westport near the Fairfield border, Fairfield emergency services are not notified, even if they may be closer to the scene.
“We’ll continue to provide individual services to individual towns, but when seconds count, these are very important things to take into account,” Koskinas said.
Regionalization efforts, particularly for dispatcher and emergency services, have been discussed for the last decade but have gained more momentum in the last year.
At the state level, there are at least two proposals to push toward regionalizing municipal services, such as House Bills 6155 and 6381, proposed by Rep. J. P. Sredzinski, R-112, and Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-85, respectively.
Recently, the Southwestern Regional Communications — a nonprofit that provides telecommunication services to 16 communities’ departments — moved from its cramped quarters at the Old Bridgeport Hospital to 100 Beard Sawmill Road in Shelton.
In Ansonia, where plans for a new police headquarters are being discussed, a regional police training center and 911 dispatch center are potential proposals.
“The public gets better service from us. It all comes back to what is the service we’re delivering to the public, and it’s improved because we have access to the resources of both communities as they do ours, and mutual aid becomes more automatic and seamless,” McCarthy said.
Includes reporting by Sophie Vaughan