SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

September 1, 2009

Chiefs at odds over dispatch center

IPSWICH — It looks like residents will have to decide next spring whether they think it's a good idea to become part of the regional emergency dispatch center. Maybe by then their police and fire chiefs will agree about the proposal.

Selectmen spent more than an hour last night hearing the pros and cons of centralizing the police, fire and ambulance dispatch operations of 13 local communities. The proposed center would be near Middleton Jail and would be staffed with 12 dispatchers.

The Essex County Sheriff's Department would oversee the operations of the center.

Topsfield fire Chief Ron Giovannacci, who is heading up a committee pursuing the plan, and Joe McGowan, an attorney with the Sheriff's Department who is consulting the group, made the case for the centralized service.

McGowan said a grant will pay all of the costs of building and equipping the center, so the member communities will only have to cover the cost of operating it.

Those costs would be assessed to each community based on its population. The $16.20-per-capita estimated cost, multiplied by the approximately 13,500 people in Ipswich, would amount to about $213,000.

Town Manager Bob Markel said the cost of running the town's own dispatch center currently totals approximately $300,000, so some savings could be realized.

Police Chief Gavin Keenan wasn't sure about that, however, and in a lengthy prepared statement for the board, he outlined a list of reasons why emergency responses should be handled locally.

Chief among them was that during the night, the dispatchers are often the only people in the police station. Without them, the station would have to be locked at night, Keenan said, or officers would have to be taken off the streets to man the station.

He recommended that board members not approve the change.

But fire Chief Art Howe said he believes the safety of firefighters and police officers would be better ensured with a larger team of dispatchers available to react to an emergency.

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