Emergency communications commission constituted

WESTFIELD ¬– The city’s new emergency dispatch center, the centerpiece of the recently established Public Safety Communications Department, has been operational for almost two months and soon the commission established to manage the department will be constituted and ready for its first meeting.
A city ordinance to establish the new department was passed by the City Council in February and additional dispatchers were hired in May, in preparation for the start of operations of the centralized dispatch center. The center is at the city’s Technology Department at Barnes Regional Airport, which already houses the city’s Emergency Management Agency.
The dispatchers, and the dispatch center director, were hired by the city’s Police Commission as the Public Safety Communications Commission was not then constituted.
The Police Commission, acting on the recommendation of an ad hoc selection committee, which included several members slated to serve on the communications commission, chose John W. Medley as the director of the dispatch center.
Medley, a resident of Vernon, Conn., had been working as a supervisor in the emergency dispatch center in Bridgeport, Conn., where he dealt with ten person shifts answering all the 911 calls in the biggest city in Connecticut.
The new ordinance stipulates that the new department, which has its own budget for salaries, equipment, capital improvement and maintenance, will be overseen by a commission comprised of the police and fire chiefs, the information technology manager and two representatives appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.
The mayor has chosen as his appointments Richard Emmings of 3 West School Street and Ana M. Nunez of 66 Larcheley Ave., to serve on the commission with Police Chief John A. Camerota, Fire Chief Mary R. Regan and IT Manager Lenore J. Bernashe.
Emmings has already been confirmed by the council.
Brent Bean, the chairman of the council’s Personnel Action Committee, reports that his committee interviewed Emmings before he was confirmed unanimously by the full council at their Aug. 16 meeting.
Bean said that the committee members are “very familiar with Rich” who, he said, offered to serve and has worked as a volunteer in the past on various city boards and projects.
Bean said that Emmings “comes from a strong IT background which we thought would be valuable to the commission.”
He called Emmings “very versatile” and said “this seems like a good fit.”
Bean said that Nunez was not confirmed by the council because she was not available to be interviewed by the committee but said that he does not foresee problems with her appointment.
“She’s also a very strong candidate” he said noting that her family has a long and rich history of service to the city.
He said that he has scheduled a meeting of his committee immediately prior to the special meeting of the City Council scheduled for Aug. 30 and expects to interview her then so the council can vote on her nomination later that same evening.
City Clerk Karen Fanion reports that no meeting of the new commission has been scheduled.
The immediate spur to establish the new dispatch center was a state mandate which requires that, starting on July 1 this year, emergency medical dispatchers be extensively trained and certified so that they can stay on the line with a person reporting a medical emergency to provide verbal assistance and instructions to help them handle their emergency while they await the first responders.
Police Capt. Hipolito Nunez, who was instrumental in the planning and organization of the new department, has explained that the state requirement made the consolidation of the city’s police and fire dispatching operations necessary because of the training which is now required for emergency medical dispatchers.
He said that while the police dispatchers were already trained for medical dispatching duties, the police officers who served as dispatchers, predominantly on the overnight (midnight to 8 a.m.) shift, did not have the required training nor did the fire department dispatchers.
He explained that the requirements for emergency medical dispatching have evolved so that the required skills and training no longer overlap well with the skill set needed for police, firefighters and medical first responders. Nunez said that the cost of training to a new skill level the large number of officers and firefighters who would be required to maintain the old system was prohibitive.
The consolidation of the dispatch duties is projected to save the city $1.3 million over three years, largely due to salary savings as dispatchers generally earn substantially less than police and firefighters.
In addition, the personnel released from dispatching duties at both departments will then become available for their primary jobs resulting in decreased overtime costs.
The consolidation also saves the city the considerable costs for the hardware which would be needed if the fire department were to continue to operate independently.
Another spur to the consolidation of the city’s dispatchers is the current trend toward regional dispatch centers favored by state authorities as a way to limit costs, particularly the cost of the dispatch hardware which is largely financed by state grants.
Nationally, large states such as Texas and California have moved to a system whereby a handful of emergency dispatch centers cover the whole state.
While no nearby community has committed to using the city’s new center, at least two have reportedly expressed interest in the city’s asset, which has the capacity to handle additional communities.
In addition, the dispatch center could be used to link various city agencies.
Currently, the Police, Fire, Gas & Electric, Water and Public Works departments all use different radio frequencies which have been assigned by federal authorities and thus are not able to directly communicate with each other.
But, linked by the new dispatch center, the various department could be coordinated more efficiently to cope with emergencies or natural disasters.

To Top