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Thomas Dubas

MIDDLETON — The regional 911 dispatch center under construction on the grounds of Middleton Jail now has a boss.

Thomas Dubas, a former detective and police chief and the current head of a regional dispatch center in Pennsylvania, has been hired as director of the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center.

The $8 million center is one of the state's first attempts at regionalizing the emergency dispatch duties now performed by local police and fire departments. It is scheduled to open early next year and will serve the communities of Beverly, Middleton, Topsfield, Wenham, Amesbury and Essex.

Dubas, 59, has been working as a consultant on the project since it began in 2008, traveling once or twice a month from Pennsylvania to Middleton.

"I'm excited about starting a new position," he said. "Obviously, I have a stake in the project because I've been working with them for the last four years. I'm very enthused about it."

Dubas was hired by Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins and an executive committee appointed to oversee the dispatch center. That committee consists of Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer, Wenham police Chief Ken Walsh and Topsfield fire Chief Ron Giovannacci.

Dubas will be a state employee and will work for Cousins, who oversees the dispatch center. Cousins said Dubas has been offered a three-year contract. The salary has not been finalized, but Dubas will be paid between $95,000 and $115,000, the salary range advertised for the job. He is scheduled to start Feb. 12.

"Tom is at a stage of his life where we can have him for three years and bring the center up to a national level and really make it something the taxpayers are proud of," Cousins said.

About 65 people applied for the job, Cousins said. The three subcommittees that help govern the regional dispatch center, made up of police, fire and municipal officials from the participating communities, selected four finalists.

Those four underwent an all-day assessment by BadgeQuest, a Yarmouth company that specializes in vetting candidates for law enforcement jobs. Two finalists dropped out. The subcommittees interviewed the other two finalists, Dubas and William Kelly of Rowley, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain who supervised the Boston regional Coast Guard command center, before choosing Dubas.

"He's very well qualified," Giovannacci said. "He's worked on the project for the last four years and has given us guidance and advice on every aspect. He's built one that's bigger but similar in Pennsylvania that was nationally recognized."

Dubas was the police chief for the town of Blakely Borough in Pennsylvania for 21 years, then became the chief detective for the Lackawanna County district attorney's office. For the last eight years, he has been director of emergency services for Lackawanna County, a job that includes supervision of the county's dispatch center for a population base of 215,000.

Dubas said he decided to take the job in Middleton in part because he had been asked to reapply for his current job by newly elected county commissioners.

"The situation here in Pennsylvania is a little bit political," he said. "Two of the three county commissioners changed this year, and they've indicated they're going to review everyone's position. Quite honestly, I just didn't care to go through that process again."

Regional dispatching has been around since the 1970s in Pennsylvania and has been widely accepted, but the concept has been met with some trepidation on the North Shore. Several communities have declined a chance to join the regional center over concerns about costs or losing their local dispatching operations and the jobs that come with them.

Of the 13 communities that signed letters of intent to participate in the dispatch center, only six have joined so far.

"It's a slower process than anyone had hoped for," Dubas said. "It's a new concept for the area, and there's a lot of apprehension. Police officers are concerned. Firefighters are concerned. Dispatchers are the biggest concern. I can understand the apprehension and concern. My only hope is that we can do a good enough job initially that we can convince more communities to join."

Dubas said he would like to see more people earn certification as an emergency number professional. Only two Massachusetts residents have earned the distinction from the National Emergency Number Association, as opposed to 118 in Pennsylvania, according to the association's website.

"Hopefully we'll start a movement to get more people certified up there," said Dubas, who is an ENP.

The dispatch center is tentatively scheduled to have 16 to 18 employees, all but two of them dispatchers, Dubas said.

Cousins said dispatchers will be hired from among the dispatchers currently working in the six communities that are joining the center.

"They will all be given an opportunity to apply for those positions," Cousins said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at pleighton@salemnews.com.

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