MIDDLETON — An incident last week in which a dispatcher announced a Middleton fire box alarm to Wenham firefighters has exposed growing pains at the new Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center.
The incident had the Middleton Fire Department taking back its dispatching duties from the center for the time being.
The town administrator of the center’s host community says “hiccups” with the new system are not enough to prevent Middleton from making the switch over next month. While the Fire Department may have switched back to doing dispatch, the switch is a temporary one.
”There are hiccups every time you turn around, but are they fatal flaws? No,” said Middleton Town Administrator Ira Singer, who sits on the center’s financial advisory board. “Everything is gradually being transitioned over, and it’s not without its hitches.”
While Middleton’s emergency 911 calls are being handled by the center on Manning Avenue at the Middleton Jail, fire and police dispatch are still being handled locally, Singer said.
The approximately $10 million, 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art dispatch center was constructed over the past few years and went into service this summer. It was hailed as a way for communities to more efficiently and cost-effectively handle dispatch while freeing up police and firefighters.
Concerns about the center’s operations and skepticism from public safety unions dogged the center even before it was built. Danvers, whose top public safety officials at first touted its construction, has declined to join. It was originally supposed to manage dispatch for 13 communities. So far, six — Beverly, Wenham, Middleton, Topsfield, Amesbury and Essex — have agreed to join, though the center can accommodate more.
The Middleton Fire Department requested its dispatch back after a fire box alarm in Middleton mistakenly went out to the Wenham Fire Department on Oct. 8 around 6 a.m., said Maurice Pratt, assistant superintendent and director of communications for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and Middleton Jail.